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Leon Bibb

Born Charles Leon Arthello Bibb, February 7, 1922, Louisville, Kentucky, LEON BIBB sang gospels and spirituals as a child with siblings (two brothers and a sister) and a chum named John Jones. Taking the route of folksinger/guitarist (PAUL ROBESON was an inspiration), Leon appeared as a singer/“waiter” on the 1946 original cast production of the musical Annie Get Your Gun, starring Ethel Merman; he joined the army for several years not long afterwards.
In 1954, he was spotlighted on two tracks (`Great Gettin’ Up Morning’ & `Told My Captain’) on various artists folk set, `Hootenanny Tonight!’. As folk quartet, The SKIFFLERS (although the man was nowhere to be seen on the sleeve), LEON BIBB (aka Lee Charles), Libby Knight, Hally Wood and Milt Okun issued `Goin’ Down To Town’ for Epic Records in 1957, while they appeared on the Today Show on a few occasions. Accompanied by John Stauber (guitar) and Eric Weisberg (bass), BIBB contributed four solo tracks to the 1959-recorded V/A LP, `Folk Festival At Newport Volume 1’, alongside PETE SEEGER, Martha Schlamme, TOM MAKEM & PAT CLANCY; the penultimate cut was released as a double-A side to SEEGER’s `Careless Love’. During a healthy spell in the late 50s, Leon would show up in Kurt Weill’s `Lost In The Stars’, and others such as `Finian’s Rainbow’ and `Living The Life’; with the aforementioned SEEGER, he sang with/or accompanied him on several recording occasions.
Retained by Vanguard Records (who delivered the “Newport” set), the classy singer was represented by a triumvirate of neo-operatic trad-folk sets, LEON BIBB sings FOLK SONGS (1959) {*6}, TOL’ MY CAPTAIN (1960) {*6} and LEON BIBB sings LOVE SONGS (1960) {*5}; guitarist Fred Hellerman (of The WEAVERS) was always on hand.
From one respective album each for Columbia (LEON BIBB SINGS (1961) {*6}) and Washington Records (OH FREEDOM and other Spirituals (1962) {*4}), there were at least plenty of decent cuts such as `Joey, Joey, Joey’, `John Hardy’, `Bonnie Wee Girl’, `Lost In The Stars’, etc on the former set.
Liberty would sign BIBB for two sets, the live in concert ENCORE! (1963) {*6}, with Stuart Scharf on guitar (who accompanied the singer on a subsequent Russian tour), and CHERRIES & PLUMS (1964) {*5}, the latter for youngsters featuring banjoman ERIC WEISSBERG in tow, with credits via Hellerman-Hays, Bernie Krause and ALAN ARKIN.
THE NOW COMPOSERS (1968) {*4}, found BIBB in contemporary-folk aplomb (Cowsills producer Artie Kornfeld was at the controls); but not everyone was a disciple of his readings of The BEATLES’ `Here, There And Everywhere’ and `In My Life’, DYLAN’s `The Times They Are A-Changin’’, BUD (Dashiell) & TRAVIS’ `Bon Soir Dame’, MALVINA REYNOLDS’ `Little Boxes’, LEN CHANDLER’s `To Be A Man’, TIM HARDIN’s `If I Were A Carpenter’ and LEONARD COHEN’s `Suzanne’.
Relocating to Vancouver, Canada in 1969 (where he subsequently semi-retired), BIBB turned out two further sets for R.C.A. Records: FOMENT, FERMENT, FREE… FREE (1969) {*5} and THIS IS LEON BIBB (1970) {*4}; both records saw his single contributions to the film theme world by way of `Slaves’ and `The Virgin Soldiers’ respectively.
Long since retired and guiding from afar, his Finnish-based son ERIC BIBB (an artist with several decent out ’n’ out blues albums under his belt), Leon decided to have his own say with SHENANDOAH (1997) {*5}; he’s since collaborated on two father/son efforts, A FAMILY AFFAIR (2002) {*5} and full-circle vehicle PRAISING PEACE – A TRIBUTE TO PAUL ROBESON (2006) {*5}. In 2009, BIBB was rewarded for all his hard graft when he received the Order of British Columbia from his fellow Canadians. Sadly, Leon passed away in Vancouver on October 23, 2015.
© MC Strong 2010/GFD // rev-up MCS Oct2015

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