Saturday, January 23, 2010

Farewell, Kate

The sad news came on Tuesday that Kate McGarrigle had passed away on Monday, January 18. The cancer she'd been battling for several years finally won. She was 63.

Kate and her sister Anna are legendary in the folk music world. Their unique sound just can't be described, but you only needed to hear them once to be able to identify them within the first few measures of a song from then on. Kate sitting at the piano or playing accordion, Anna on guitar, they sang songs, their own and those of others, in English or in French, that left you sighing when the last note drifted off into silence. I first heard them in 1974; I was dating a woman who just happened to have a copy of Kate and Anna's Dancer With Bruised Knees album, and I've been hooked ever since.

Kate was married for a time to Loudon Wainwright III, and they had two children, Rufus and Martha. Both children are as gifted as their parents and are active performing artists these days. Kate may have gone away, but she's left us the dual legacy of her recorded work with her sister and the music of her children. That's a rich heritage anyone could be proud of!

I want to leave you with some music from Kate and her family. This first video is of Kate and Anna singing their song "Talk To Me of Mendocino", from the 1990 Transatlantic Session, here joined by Karen Matheson.

This second video is an example of the McGarrigle Sisters' Canadian heritage - they sang French and French Canadian songs as often as they sang in English. This is "Ce Matin", from a concert in Chicago some time in the 1990s, with Joel Zifkin on fiddle.

And last, a version of Stephen Foster's "Hard Times Come No More" from the 1990 Transatlantic Session, with a lot of friends. That's Kate and son Rufus there at the beginning, and solos are also taken by Mary Black, and Emmylou Harris. A fitting farewell!

Text © 2010 by A. Roy Hilbinger


  1. We actually saw Kate and Rufus at the Iron Horse in Northampton years and years ago. Amazing amazing. I saw your comment on Mouse Medicine that she had died; this is a lovely tribute.

  2. Talk about a distinguished and respected career. I have a huge music collection ranging from country to classical, including detours into heavy metal and rap. In other words, my taste is eclectic. So, it says something about The McGarrigle Hour that it is one of the albums that I pull out a few times every year. In fact, I think I'll put it on as soon as the T-Bone Burnett CD I'm listening to is over!

  3. Wonderful and fitting tribute Roy. Thank you.

  4. It's Hard To Believe The News.Here is a photo I took of the Sisters in Liverpool....not sure the year? 1978 i guess?

  5. I had actually never heard of her, but am saddened by anyones passing. I hope that she is in peace.

  6. I have Dancer with Bruised Knees on Vinyl. Reminds me of my university days when I bought it. Sadly, I don't have a turntable any more. Rare talent but Rufus still flies the flag. He's amazing.

  7. I'd not come across her or her music before now. thank you for your post, Roy. I thought Talk to me of Mendocino was particularly lovely