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Barbara Dane

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b. Barbara Jean Spillman, 12 May 1927, Detroit, Michigan, USA.

Born into a white middle-class family, as a child Dane sang and played piano in Sunday school and also learned to play guitar. Right out of high school, Barbara began to raise her strong voice regularly at demonstrations for racial equality and economic justice. From the mid-40s she became involved with the labor, civil rights and feminist movements. While still in her teens, she began to sit in with bands around town and won the interest of local music promoters. She even got an offer to tour with Alvino Rey’s band, but she turned it down in favor of singing at factory gates and in union halls.

In 1949 she moved to San Francisco and began raising her own family and singing her folk and topical songs around town as well as on radio and early TV. The traditional jazz revival was then shaking the town, and by the mid ’50s she became a familiar figure at clubs along the city’s Embarcadero with her own versions of the classic women’s blues and hot jazz tunes.

She worked with Pete Seeger, Kid Ory, George Lewis, Turk Murphy and others, appearing at festivals and on television. Dane appeared at many prestigious venues and shared bills with distinguished performers, including Louis Armstrong, Memphis Slim, Lightnin’ Hopkins (with whom she later recorded an album) and controversial comedian Lenny Bruce. In 1959, she recorded with Earl Hines and toured with Jack Teagarden’s band.

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