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Shirley Collins

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Shirley Collins MBE (born Shirley Elizabeth Collins on 5 July 1935 in Hastings, Sussex) is an award-winning British folksinger who was a significant contributor to the English Folk Revival of the 1960s and 1970s. She often performed and recorded with her sister Dolly Collins, whose accompaniment on piano and portative organ created unique settings for her sister’s plain, austere singing style. Collins’s seminal recording is considered by many to be ‘Anthems in Eden’, released in 1969. With her second husband Ashley Hutchings she created the all-acoustic Etchingham Steam Band. She was awarded an MBE for services to music in 2006.

Collins and her sister, Dolly, grew up in the Hastings area of East Sussex in a family which kept alive a great love of traditional song. Songs learnt from their grandfather and from their mother’s sister, Grace Winborn, were to be important in the sisters’ repertoire throughout their career.

On leaving school, at the age of 17, Shirley Collins enrolled at a teachers’ training college in Tooting, south London. However, in London she also involved herself in the early folk revival and in 1954, at a party hosted by Ewan McColl, she met Alan Lomax, the famous American folk collector, who had moved to Britain to avoid the McCarthy witch-hunt which was then raging in America. Lomax and Collins began a romantic relationship which led to their undertaking a folk song collecting trip in the Southern states which lasted from July to November 1959 and resulted in many hours of recordings, featuring performers such as Almeda Riddle, Hobart Smith, and Bessie Jones and culminated in the discovery of Mississippi Fred McDowell.

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