It’s the end of an era with the death of singer and composer Fred Hellerman. The last surviving member of the Folk music group The Weavers, Hellerman died at his home in Weston, Connecticut, on September 1 at the age of 89. While no official cause of death was given, son Caleb noted that his father had been in declining health for some time. Caleb said that his father was surrounded by family at the time of his death.
With fellow members Pete Seeger, Lee Hays, and Ronnie Gilbert, Hellerman and The Weavers were a part of the Folk revival spawning the hits “Goodnight Irene,” “On Top of Old Smokey,” “If I Had a Hammer,” “Kisses Sweeter than Wine,” and “Wimoweh.” The group got caught in the “Red Scare” of the fifties and saw their popularity wane for a time but re-surged before they broke up in 1964.
The multi-talented Hellerman worked with Woody and Arlo Guthrie — producing the album “Alice’s Restaurant” for Arlo — and worked with other musical talents such as Don McLean, Harry Belafonte, Peter Paul and Mary, the Kingston Trio, Theodore Bikel, Joan Baez and Judy Collins.
Hellerman’s music can also be heard on the soundtracks of “Sing Your Song,” “Independent Lens,” “Tohuwabohu,” “Chicago Hope,” “Gettin’ Down,” “The Two Ronnies,” “The Dean Martin Show,” “The Rosey Grier Show,” “Halleluja!,” “The Lux Show” and “The Rainmaker.”
Harry Belafonte,, Don Williams, The Band, Sam Cooke, Ronnie Lane, and Bobby Vinton have all recorded Hellerman’s music. He was known to record under a number of pen names including Fred Brooks and Paul Campbell.
Hellerman worked with the Yiddish Theatre in New York City. Many years later he returned to the theater, writing music for local productions.
The youngest of three, he was born May 13, 1927 in Brooklyn, New York to Jewish immigrants from Latvia. A 17-year-old Fred signed up for the United States Coast Guard near the end of World War II and spent time monitoring the weather in the North Atlantic. It was while in the Coast Guard that Hellerman taught himself to play the guitar. While attending Brooklyn College, Hellerman performed with American Folksay and People’s Songs.
He is survived by his wife of over 45 years, Susan; children Caleb and Simeon; and grandchildren Silas, Harper, and Inman.
Fred Hellerman discography:
“Kisses Sweeter than Wine”
“Carry it On: Songs of American Working People”
“Wasn’t that a Time?”
“Best of the Decca Years”
“Maids and Golden Apples”
“Chad Mitchell Trio Collection”
“Forever: An Anthology”
“Link in the Chain”
“Good Night Irene: The Weavers 1949-1953”
“Til we Outnumber ‘Em: Woody Guthrie”
“Best of the Vanguard Years”
“Folk Song Tradition”
“Pete Seeger: The Weavers”
“Reunion at Carnegie Hall”
“Seeds the Songs of Pete Seeger”
“At the Bitter End”
“Around the Campfire”
“Weavers at Carnegie Hall”
“Original Master Series”
“Maid of Constant Sorrow”/”Golden Apples of the Sun”
“Caught in the Act”
Sherrill is an award winning journalist and photographer. Her specialty is music, entertainment, and sports.To date she has had over 6,000 works published - including profiles, news pieces, reviews, and obituaries; both in print and online. She has covered 100's of concerts and conducted numerous interviews including members of One Republic, Clannad, Celtic Thunder, The Wiggles, the J. Geils Band, DoDriver, More Than Me, abd Thunderhand Joe and the Medicine Show.She has also co-authored a book on the history of a Rochester New York Congregation.She is also a photographer and artist whose photographs can be seen in some of her articles.Unless otherwise stated, the photos that appear in the articles belong to her.Sherrill makes her home in the western New York area.Sherrill contributes music and sports news for The Daily Voice News.Contact her at: [email protected]