12 May 1927 (age 90)
Detroit, Wayne County, Michigan, United States
Born Barbara Jean Spillman, May 12, 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.
In 1961 Barbara opened her own club, Sugar Hill: Home of the Blues, on San Francisco's Broadway, with the idea of creating a respectful venue for the music right on the tourist rialto where a wider audience could come in contact with it. There Dane performed regularly with her two most constant musical companions: Kenny "Good News" Whitson on piano and cornet, and Wellman Braud, former Duke Ellington bassist. She continued her high profile on television, radio and in concert, throughout the 60s and 70s.
In 1966, Barbara Dane became the first U.S. musician to tour post-revolutionary Cuba. The impact on the Cuban public was indelible, and she soon returned to take part in an international festival where she met other like-minded singers from all over the world. Through some of these singers, she was invited to tour in both Western and Eastern Europe, Mexico, Nicaragua, and the Far East, even to North Vietnam and the liberated areas of the South as the war still raged. Dane concentrated her musical efforts on singing at fund- and consciousness raising gatherings around the world. Her decision to ally her singing to political causes has tended to keep her from the general audience.
In 1970 Dane founded Paredon Records, with a deep commitment to making the music of the musicians and singers identified with the liberation movements then rocking the globe, many of whom she met during her travels, available to the U.S. listener. She produced 45 albums, including three of her own, over a 12 year period. The label was recently incorporated into Smithsonian-Folkways, a label of the Smithsonian Institution, and is available through their catalog.
In December of 1997 she gave a solo concert at the Casa de las Americas in Havana, Cuba as the wrap-up of a year-long celebration of the 30th Anniversary of the Encuentro de Cancion Protesta, a series which included Isabel y Ángel Parra of Chile and other international guest artists.
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