Folk music fans are in mourning this week after it was reported that Rosalie Sorrels, a legendary singer and storyteller, passed away on Sunday. She was 83 years-old.
The New York Times reported that Sorrels was known of singing about heartbreaking stories from her own tempestuous life. Her work served to inspire an entire generation of folk singers who came about in the 1980s.
Her death was confirmed by her daughter, Holly Marizu, who said that her mother had been suffering from colon cancer and dementia before she passed.
Sorrels emerged onto the folk music scene at the 1966 Newport Folk Festival, where she performed traditional songs from her home state of Iowa and from Utah, where she lived with her family. She originally wrote songs about life on the road, her marital difficulties and the challenges of raising children. However, she then moved to bigger topics like prison reform, suicide prevention and women’s rights.
Sorrels approach to storytelling was incredibly unique, and often described as incantatory.
“It’s usually a big dark room, and there’s this woman onstage with this beautiful, rich, velvety voice who’s telling you this story or singing you a song, and then she stops and she tells a little story, and then the song continues, and she stops,” said singer Christine Lavin. “It’s like you’re sitting around a campfire and there’s this great wise shaman. And it completely transports you out of yourself.”
“I think she’s influenced a lot of people who don’t even know her name,” Lavin added.
During a 2005 interview, Sorrels summed up her lengthy career beautifully.
“I’m an actress. I’m a troubadour,” she said. “I take the news from place to place. I do it with music. I do it with poetry and stories, and I try to connect.”
Rest in peace, Rosalie Sorrels!