Happy 80th Birthday, Shirley Collins!
Today we celebrate the 80th birthday of English folksinger Shirley Elizabeth Collins. From 1959 to 1980, Collins recorded nineteen albums, including False True Lovers for Smithsonian Folkways in 1959. Her sophomore release, the album was recorded when Collins was 24 years old. Alan Lomax produced the album and contributed liner notes, and Shirley is joined on the recording by her banjo teacher John Hasted as well as Ralph Rinzler and Guy Carawan.
False True Lovers is a collection of songs and ballads from the British tradition, with some versions stemming from the songs Cecil Sharp collected in both England and America, while others are uniquely Collins’ own, inspired by the variants she heard growing up in Sussex, England. In the liner notes, Lomax comments, “Shirley has been working on her own and in her own way for the last three or four years. During the whole time I knew her [her] command of her songs and her grasp of singing style grew surer. And this was all the more remarkable, in that she was slowly picking her way back across almost a century, finding for herself the traditional heart of each song, and making it come alive again, but in an increasingly tasteful folk manner.”
There has been a resurgence of interest in Collins’ music in recent years, and a new documentary about her life, The Ballad of Shirley Collins, is due out in summer 2016. Filmmakers Tim Plester and Rob Curry have said that Collins “changed the course of folk music in England and America.” Billy Bragg commented, “Shirley Collins is without doubt one of England’s greatest cultural treasures.”