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Scottish Singer Made Mark On Champaign-Urbana Arts Scene

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Jean Redpath

Jean Redpath, performing at Champaign's Virginia Theater in 2005. Redpath passed away Thursday at the age of 77. (Eric Frahm)

Scottish folk singer Jean Redpath, who died Thursday, is being remembered today with words like ‘warm’ and ‘vivacious’.  Her career in Champaign-Urbana includes numerous performances at University of Illinois and Champaign's Virginia Theatre.

Nationwide, she's better known for her performances on programs like A Prairie Home Companion, Thistle and Shamrock, and even Late Night with David Letterman.

Locally, Redpath's concerts included four shows at the U of I's Krannert Center for the Perfoming Arts, and two with The Chorale, the local community choir, as part of the group's New Year's Eve perfomances.

Chorale Director Julie Beyler started collaborating with Redpath a decade ago, but first saw her perform at Urbana's First United Methodist Church in the late 1980's.

"I didn't know who she was, but she was doing a sound check for a concert later that evening," she said.  "And I just kind of stood at the doorway and listened, and was really taken by her voice, as was most everybody when they heard her for the first time."

Beyler first contacted Redpath in 2004, which led to the first time she collaborated with The Chorale on New Year's Eve a year later.

"Jean never really had a program, as such," she said.  "When I said to her, what shall I put in the program?  She said, 'I never do that, because I never quite know what I'm going to do until I go out and feel the audience.  Just put 'Jean Redpath sings."

Julie was eventually welcomed to Redpath's home in Scotland, and invited The Chorale to come tour in her home country in 2006, begining what she called a 'sisterly' relationship with the singing legend.

Beyler said there was no celebrity presence about Redpath.

"She was very genial, easy to get to know, and met people well, forming relationships easilly," she said.

In a 2005 appearance on WILL’s program 'Focus', Redpath said the music, more than the lyrics had to convey emotion, or there was no point in doing them.

“If the melody doesn’t go straight for the tear ducts, or straight for the eye, or straight for the gut, there’s no real reason to learn it.  And the words are important yes, but I have been profoundly moved in the past listening to a song in a language that I understood none of at all.”

In that program, she told David Inge that she approached each song with the premise that if she’s gone to the trouble of learning it… that everyone is going to love it.

Rich Warren, host of The Midnight Special radio program, first worked with her in 1975, when she recorded a folk program for WFMT.

"She was warm, she was vivacious, she was someone who took music serious, but life was a joy to sing it,' he said.  "She was infectious with her singing on stage.  She made you feel like you were in her living room, and she was just sharing her favorite songs.  And she was really magic in that respect."

Redpath first came to the U.S. in 1961, performing in a folk festival.  She once shared a flat with Bob Dylan and Rambling Jack Elliot.

"We didn't talk about because she took everything very matter-of-factly," Warren said. "Big names had no special impression other than they were musicians and she liked hanging around with musicians and sharing music."

Warren said he plans tributes to Redpath on the program, which airs at 7 p.m. Saturdays on WILL-FM, over the next few weeks.

Redpath died Thursday at a hospice in Arizona at age 77.  She had been suffering from cancer.

Categories: Art and Culture, Music