MALVINA REYNOLDS "MUST be celebrated," says local musical mainstay Lisa Otey. "She's one of the great songwriters of our times, and her songs are still very relevant today." Otey is one of an impressive line-up of local musicians who will throw a birthday bash this Sunday, August 29, for the revered folk singer. Reynolds, who would've been 99 this month, was best known for songs like "Little Boxes" and "Turn Around," tunes widely recorded by such folk music greats as Pete Seeger, Joan Baez and Judy Collins.
Together with Otey, local artists Eb Eberlein, Linda Lou Reed and Bruce Phillips, among others, will step up to the mike to perform some of Reynolds' songs. The event is co-sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Church and the Tucson Labor Chorus, and will include a screening of Love It Like a Fool, a 30-minute documentary about Reynolds made in 1976.
"Malvina has a great sense of humor and a great way of presenting her ideas in songs," says Otey. Many of Reynolds' songs, like "Little Boxes," reflect her concern about what she perceived as a breakdown of community; but they do so with humor, and without losing hope.
"When I look at people," said Reynolds in a 1971 workshop, "I think, 'How can they wipe you out? You're beautiful, intelligent, viable creatures who still have your finger on the old strength, the tribal strength. You still have language...You have feeling, you have poetry, you have music.' "
Reverend Stanley Stefancic of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson knew Reynolds, who was also a Unitarian. "She used to come to the [church's] general assemblies," remembers Stefancic, "and she would sit down somewhere -- in the hotel lobby or the convention center -- and start playing, and we'd all sing. She was just a wonderful, spirited, extraordinary woman who wrote some great songs. The one that really moved me was one that came out in the '60s that talked about grass growing through concrete, because it expressed hope -- that in the midst of concrete, whether actual concrete or concrete opinions and ideas, there could be new life...there could be growth, there could be hope."
That song, called "God Bless the Grass," will be among those performed by the Tucson Labor Chorus.
A 100th anniversary compilation CD of Reynolds' work will be released next year, and a full length biography is being written by Ellen Stekert.
Reynolds was also a folk philosopher of sorts, writing poems and essays in addition to the hundreds of songs she composed and performed from the 1940s through the '70s. She had a profound belief in the power of music and of language, and like any artist whose art raises social issues, she was sometimes criticized for her commitment. "If you have any faith in human intelligence, in human strength, in the human spirit," said Reynolds, "you have faith in the word. The word can be sung, or it can be said...But the word is part of your weaponry...to protect yourself, and make yourself and be yourself. And I'm going to sing the word, and I'm going to sing it the way I see it."
Reynolds left some advice for those who would remember her after she was gone in her 1961 song "This World": "This old world is mean and cruel/But I still love it like a fool/Don't weep for me when I am gone/just keep this old world rolling on."