A Farewell to Folk Doyenne Faith Petric

Faith Petric, an enduring voice in Bay Area folk music, has passed away at 98.

Petric was a central figure in folk music in the Bay Area and beyond for decades. From her rambling home in San Francisco's Cole Valley, Petric led the SF Folk Music Club (which is incorporated here in Berkeley on Woolsey St.).

Petric wrote a column for Sing Out! magazine, sang at demonstrations and was befriended by Pete Seeger, who found her "extraordinary."

While I didn't know Petric personally, I attended recent “Friday Night Jams” at her Clayton Street home in SF. Nothing fancy, the house is spacious and functional, as befits a folk-music venue. Jams are organized into a “singing room” – where participants take turns singing, requesting, joining in or listening to songs that are loosely based a pre-announced theme – and two additional rooms for instrumental jamming and spontaneous song swaps.

The Clayton Street jams are part of a Bay Area-wide network of folk-music gatherings, usually held at at private homes. At the jams I've attended, turnout often looks like about 50 people, and it's an older crowd than you'd see in the nightclubs, though there are often a few players in their 20s and 30s. Favored instruments are guitars, banjos, fiddles, mandolins, bass, autoharp, flute, accordions, clarinet, harmonicas, kazoos, a musical saw and an occasional harp. Many players are quite accomplished, others still learning.

"When I sing a particular song, I'm in that song," Petric (nicknamed the "Fort Knox of Folk Music" for her repertoire of thousands of songs), once told the San Francisco Chronicle. "I plan to keep singing until I can't sing anymore."

Petric spoke out against agism, saying that stereotypes against aging only benefit companies that sell face creams. A couple of years ago, she sang in a Berkeley church at an event titled, "Don't Let Age Get You Down: Songs and Stories of Our Elders."

She started her singing career beside her father, a Methodist preacher who played pipe organ in their Idaho log cabin. Petric attended boarding school when her parents divorced, and later graduated from Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash. She worked several jobs, married and, like her parents, separated.

After putting a daughter through college, Petric, then 55, quit a government job to hit the road with friends as a folk singer. It was a tour that lasted decades and took her around the world.

She discovered cowboy and country songs in the mid-'20s and protest songs during the Spanish Civil War. She marched for civil rights in Selma, took over leadership of the San Francisco Folk Club in 1962, and helped found the Portable Folk Festival a decade later.

On Sept. 11, 2010, Petric celebrated her 95th birthday with a concert at Berkeley's Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse. Ronnie Gilbert (of the Weavers), Estelle Freedman and Don Burnham (of Lost Weekend) and Berkeley-based country-blues fingerpicker Alan Smithline were among those who shared the stage with her.

Here's a video of Petric singing "It's a Pleasure to Know You" – one of her favorites – at the 2012 SF Free Folk Festival: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xbVeyG0DH_A

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

S Peterson October 27, 2013 at 02:50 PM
Steven, Faith did not die after a long illness. She was fit and relatively hardy, given her age of 98, and passed away following a quick decline. Her family and friends would like to see a correction to this otherwise wonderful tribute to her grand life.
Stephen Taylor October 28, 2013 at 12:33 PM
Thanks, Sharyn. As of this moment, no one has told me the clinical cause of death, but I've removed the offending phrase from the blog. Here's what reliable sources have told me to date: Faith broke a hip, then two years later broke the other. Each was replaced and the result of a fall. Toward the end, she couldn't walk on her own. She entered a care facility, or hospice, during the summer, and so needed assistance for several months. Thanks again to you and other SF Folk Music Club members for their interest in Faith's story.


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