Rosalie Sorrels

Born Rosalie Ann Stringfellow, June 24, 1933 in Boise, Idaho, SORRELS grew up in a musically-minded household; both her parents (Walter Pendleton Stringfellow and Nancy Ann Kelly Stringfellow) and her grandparents took spirit from the sounds of Anglo-American folk music. However, Rosalie’s life seemed blighted when, from the age of sixteen, she underwent an illegal abortion and a year later had a baby which she put up for adoption.
Subsequently married with five young children, she discovered her talent for singing, songwriting and collating while taking a course in Utah’s Folklore Workshop during 1959. Accompanied by her guitarist husband, Jim Sorrels, Rosalie (through Folkways Records) released her debut set, FOLK SONGS OF IDAHO AND UTAH (1961) {*7}, an inspirational but melancholy record that utilised traditional “cowboy” rhythms on the likes of `Death Of Kathy Fiscus’, `The Fox’, `House Carpenter’ and `The Wild Colonial Boy’. With Jim in tow once again, she delivered two further LPs, ROSALIE’S SONGBAG (1963) {*6} and …sings SONGS OF THE MORMON PIONEERS (1964) {*5}, for Prestige and Festival Records respectively; it was at this point she left her husband to raise her children in Salt Lake City, while a fourth studio set, SOMEWHERE BETWEEN (1964) {*6}, was issued.
Manny Greenhill (at Folklore Productions) saw potential in her simple but effective style, and with his son, Mitch, she performed at the 1966 Newport Folk Festival. Hard times led to Rosalie and the kids staying at the house of Lena Spencer in Saratoga Springs, NY while she also performed at her famous Caffe Lena venue, promoting fresh, original ballads, most contained within the grooves of her next solo LP, IF I COULD BE THE RAIN (1967) {*6}.
The poignantly-titled TRAVELIN’ LADY (1972) {*6}, and her only major-label release (for Paramount Records), WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO THE GIRL THAT WAS (1973) {*5}, found SORRELS back in vogue, but turmoil and tragedy would once again blight her when her oldest son David committed suicide in 1976.
Autobiographical and confessional, her music on ALWAYS A LADY (1976) {*8} – including her tribute, `Song For David’ – was understandably more emotive than usual, while the LP itself was bookended by Klesinger-Marquis tracks `Mehitabel’s Theme’ and `The Moth’. Philo Records cultivated her talents further via MOMENTS OF HAPPINESS (1977) {*6} and TRAVELIN’ LADY RIDES AGAIN (1978) {*7}, the latter consisting of Stetson-styled C&W road songs such as `Trucker’s Café’, etc. and weepy ballads like UTAH PHILLIPS’ `Talkin’ Wolverine 14’, `Going Away’ and `I Remember Loving You’.
Back on the western folk trail, the early 80s saw SORRELS and Green Linnet Records deliver a couple of fine albums, THE LONESOME ROVING WOLVES (1980) {*6} – produced by PATRICK SKY – and MISCELLANEOUS ABSTRACT RECORD NO.1 (1982) {*6}, the latter housing mainly covers, heightened by the appearance of BRUCE UTAH PHILLIPS’ `Ashes By The Sea’, MALVINA REYNOLDS’ `If You Love Me’, JIMMIE DALE GILMORE’s `You’ve Got To Go To Sleep Alone’ and two from the pen of AUNT MOLLY JACKSON: `Aunt Molly Jackson Defines Folk Songs Once And For All’ and `I Am A Union Woman’. Interspersed between the sets was her credited participation (with Terry Garthwaite and Bobbie Louise Hawkins) on concert set LIVE AT THE GREAT AMERICAN MUSIC HALL (1981) {*5}; in ’84, joined by Bruce Carver, she issued another live LP, …THEN CAME THE CHILDREN {*6}.
1988 was a worrying time for Rosalie and her family when she was diagnosed with a cerebral aneurysm, but happily she subsequently recovered. To show support, Green Linnet yielded several resurgent Rosalie releases, kicking off with BE CAREFUL, THERE’S A BABY IN THE HOUSE (1990) {*6}, a record with a LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III title track and other kiddie covers from SHEL SILVERSTEIN (`You’re Always Welcome At Our House’), MALVINA REYNOLDS (`Lost Children Street’, `Rim Of The World’ and `I Cannot Sleep For Thinking Of The Children’), UTAH PHILLIPS (`Aces, Straights And Flushes’) and Billie Holiday (`God Bless The Child’). REPORT FROM GRIMES CREEK (1991) {*7} – featuring narrative readings from the pen of her mother Nancy, WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO LOVE? (1994) {*6}, and the more conventionally countrified BORDERLINE HEART (1995) {*5}.
Shared with her old pal and fellow unionist, U. UTAH PHILLIPS (and not a duet in sight), THE LONG MEMORY (1996) {*6} was her first of several CDs for Red House Records, although there were repeats of the two Aunt Molly songs alongside SI KAHN’s `Aragon Mill’, the traditional `De Colores’ and REYNOLDS’ `Carolina Cotton Mill’ and `Bury Me In My Overalls’. It was indeed only a matter of time before SORRELS presented us with a whole album’s worth of Malvina songs, courtesy of NO CLOSING CHORD (2000) {*6}, a platter that also saw guitarist Nina Gerber bring blues and bluegrass outsiders BONNIE RAITT, Terry Garthwaite, Barbara Higbie, Laurie Lewis and Will Scarlett.
MY LAST GO ROUND (2004) {*6} was actually her penultimate effort, a record that re-trod the works of PETE SEEGER (`Old Devil Time’), PEGGY SEEGER (`Love Will Linger On’), UTAH PHILLIPS (`The Telling Takes Me Home’, `Rock Salt And Nails’ and `I Think Of You’) and JEAN RITCHIE (`Pretty Saro’), amongst others.
As her tribute to the recently departed “Utah”, SORRELS wasted no time in delivering what might just be her own swansong set, STRANGERS IN ANOTHER COUNTRY: the songs of Bruce “Utah” Phillips (2008) {*7}. Like so many of her albums, this was an uplifting and thought-provoking record highlighting the political struggles for peace and justice that pacifist PHILLIPS sang for; indeed it was quite reflective of the hardships and pain that Rosalie has also suffered in her 77 years on earth. Sadly, several years on (June 11, 2017), she passed away at her daughter’s home in Reno, Nevada.
© MC Strong 2010/GFD // rev-up MCS Jun2017

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