Edith Fowke

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all info from Panagapka, Jeanette and László Vikár. Songs of the North Woods as sung by O.J. Abbott and collected by Edith Fowke. University of Calgary Press, Calgary, Alberta: 2004 except where indicated by (EMC) Encyclopedia of Music in Canada

  • born April 30, 1913, Lumsden, SK
  • died March 28, 1996, Toronto
  • BA (U of S), 1933
  • BA (College of Education, U of S), 1934 (EMC)
  • masters in English literature from University of Saskatchewan (1937)
  • 1938 – married Frank Fowke
  • taught high school, worked briefly for the CCF (EMC)
  • influenced by J.S. Woodsworth, Tommy Douglas and the socialist movement of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF-NDP) – interest in “common people”
  • during the war, worked for a magazine called The Magazine Digest - like the Reader's Digest; when the war was over, Reader's Digest got back in the market and the Magazine Digest folded; got the idea for a radio program
  • looked up Helen Creighton on a trip to NS in 1953, and that fall decided to try collecting
  • Frank went on most of her earlier trips, carrying her tape recorder and keeping her papers and recordings organized
  • a member of Mensa; had difficulties getting anywhere on time
  • 1950, convinced Harry Boyle, Program Director at the CBC to let her try a weekly program: Folk Song Time, using her recordings interspersed with narrative
-each week she had a different theme: sailor songs, lumbering songs, songs about disasters, etc
-program continued – with some interruptions – until 1964
-Also for CBC radio Fowke prepared 'Folk Sounds' (weekly 1963-74), 'Folklore and Folk Music' (42 programs broadcast in 1965 on 'The Learning Stage'), and 'The Travelling Folk of the British Isles' (seven programs for 'Ideas' in 1967). (EMC)
  • founding member of the CFMS (CSMT) in 1956, she became the editor of its publication, the Canadian Folk Music Journal, in 1973, a position she retained until her death. (EMC)
  • teamed up with composer and academic Richard Johnston to publish Folk Songs of Canada (1954), Folk Songs of Quebec (1957), and More Folk Songs of Canada (1967)
  • while working on these, she noticed that there were few songs west of Quebec, especially Ontario, and this sparked her search, heightened by the work of Creighton in NS in 1953
  • one singer led to another; she found O.J. Abbott through a letter from his daughter (see O.J.’s bio), and said “He was undoubtedly the prize of my collection.”
  • observed that Irish music dominated folk music across the country
  • observed that she was able to collect more songs from Catholics than from Protestants, speculating that Protestants were supposed to sing in praise of God, and Catholics were allowed to sing secular songs
  • attended many folk festivals in Canada, the US and Great Britain, and became a personal friend of many of the singers *because of this, was able to hear and discover more variants of songs and make historical connections between the variants she heard in North America and the older versions in Britain
  • met Richard Johnston in his second year as a professor at the University of Toronto; he took her to meet marius Barbeau
  • Johnston and Barbeau got the Canadian Folk Music Society reorganized and she joined later
  • for a long time, Johnston and Fowke barely tolerated each other, but they needed each other (she had the songs, he could transcribe and arrange); in their later years they became very good friends