January 24th, 1975
Hedwig Grace West (1938-2005) was born in Cartersville, Georgia. West’s father was Don West, a trade union organizer during the 30s, and a well-known Southern poet. She had learned to play piano while aged four, and turned to the banjo, the instrument she became best known for, when at school. She later took up the guitar. In 1959, after moving to New York City, West studied music at Mannes College. Like many others of the time, she found herself influenced by the folk movement. Her father’s union activities gave her a wealth of songs to draw on, in particular the many mining songs that prevailed at the time. Many of the songs West knew had been handed down from previous generations of her family.
West sang at the Indian Neck Festival in 1961. Having experienced playing in the coffee houses, such as Caffe Lena and Gerde’s Folk City, West moved to Los Angeles and continued singing and eventually married there. She studied composition with David Lewin at Stony Brook University, living nearby with her husband Joseph, with whom she had a daughter, Talitha. She later emigrated to England, subsequently recording for Topic Records and appeared at the first ever Cambridge Folk Festival. She later relocated to Germany in the 1970s, recording Getting Folk Out Of The Countrywith Bill Clifton for Folk Variety Records. Following a final album in 1980 she relocated to the United States, maintaining her strong political ideals until her final days.