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
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
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,
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
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