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  • DK O'Hara

Aquarium Drunkard. Barbara Dane: I’m On My Way

DK O'Hara, Aquarium Drunkard May 2015

It might seem, at a glance, that there existed only a narrow range of vocal registers available to white folk singers in the early 60s. Most women, admittedly, found themselves falling somewhere between the quiet Appalachian of Jean Ritchie or the soapbox arias of Joan Baez. Following Odetta (either on stage or on record) was ill-advised–nobody else was going to match the history embedded in that voice or the majesty of the delivery. But Dane nevertheless seemed happy to draw, wildly and un-prettily, all over the ven diagram of jazz, blues, and folk. Listen to Barbara Dane Sings the Blues (1964) and ask yourself: what other white singer, pre-Janis Joplin, was leaning so heavily on the legacy of Bessie Smith? What other white singer, pre-Karen Dalton, was digging such a deep furrow between black jazz singers and folk-blues?

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