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Richard Dyer-Bennet

Although born October 6, 1913, in Leicester, England, Richard’s formative years were spent in British Columbia, before he and his family relocated in Berkeley, California, in 1923. With a background of classical and operatic music (Caruso, McCormack, et al), and learning to sing in a local children’s choir as a young teenager, the well-mannered and extremely intelligent high-pitched tenor (and classical guitarist) DYER-BENNET drew his subsequent experience and song repertoire from living in Germany at the turn of the 30s; his political beliefs were reshaped somewhat when he witnessed the daily miscreants of that country’s emerging Nazi party.
Having spent a considerable time under the wing of Swedish minstrel mentor Sven Scholander, Richard returned to California via a seminal one-off performance for the striking miners in south Wales. Garnering hundreds of folk songs, sea shanties and love ballads from his mentor, Europe and beyond (many from ye olde bygone centuries), Richard and his renaissance lute were ready to turn professional.
With the world at war for the first half of the 40s, DYER-BENNET was making a name for himself through the odd recording (`Venezuela’ and the `Love Songs’ disc) and several prestigious gigs around his new abode of New York City, taking up residency at the Village Vanguard and Le Ruban Bleu, and selling-out at the Town Hall in NYC and the Carnegie Hall; his work included penning propaganda songs for the war effort and singing them on a tour of the Philippines and field hospitals for the wounded. Little did he know that his minstrelsy message (in 1947 Richard and his wife ran a folksy singing school from their home in Aspen, Colorado) were being scrutinized and targeted by the McCarthy-ites and the lobbyists of the House of Un-American Activities who, throughout the oncoming seven years or so, imposed a radio and TV ban on his material.
In 1955, after weathering the storm and having been introduced to likeminded producer Harvey Cort, the pair set up their own independent label. The first of a plethora of quick-fire, themed LPs, RICHARD DYER-BENNET 1 {*8}, was released to critical acclaim shortly afterwards, surprising many pundits including themselves. A total of 14 albums (all numbered except MARK TWAIN’S 1601) were issued from 1956-1964, ranging from traditional material to children’s records, a handful of them a tad too bawdy for some of the younger generation (a posh OSCAR BRAND or ED McCURDY come to mind).
His love of teaching led to him to his second “experimental” class project (SUNY) at Stony Brook, his theories of vocal/singing coaching for actors was indeed innovative. Sadly, a cerebral haemorrhage in 1972 put paid to his further educational activities, leaving him near-paralysed down one side and unable to play guitar. Still forthright in his mind, Richard found the time to adapt and re-arrange his own long-planned versions of Schubert’s Die Schone Mullerin and Homer’s Odyssey in the late 70s; look out for a documentary entitled The Odyssey Tapes (the grant-funded project itself was never completed). With health deteriorating during heavy times in the 80s, Richard died on December 14, 1991 at his home in Monterey, Massachusetts. Smithsonian Folkways had already bought the rights to the majority of DYER-BENNET’s repertoire and have since re-issued all of his independent releases; his best tracks included `Down In The Valley’, `The Vicar Of Bray’, `The Lincolnshire Poacher’, `Venezuela’ and `Corn Rigs Are Bonnie’.
© MC Strong/MCS 2010/GFD // rev-up MCS May2016

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