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Folk Revivalist Robert De Cormier Dead at 95

New York Choral Society
New York Choral Society

Robert De Cormier, a key player in the American folk revival of the ‘60s, has died at the age of 95. The classically trained vocalist acted as arranger for a number of artists, including Pete Seeger and Peter, Paul and Mary.

Newsday reports that De Cormier maintained a “steadfast commitment to peace and social justice” throughout his career. He was best known for his spiritual arrangements through work on Broadway, with the Alvin Alley American Dance Theater and the New York Choral Society.

He’d lost the ability to play his favorite instrument, the trumpet, after being wounded in the wrist as a soldier during World War II. After that, he shifted his focus on singing. His involvement in the folk revival was noted as “leading, if largely invisible” and included collaborations with Cisco Houston and Paul Robeson, along with a 17-year connection to Peter, Paul and Mary. “He lived the same imperative that [we] did,” the trio’s Peter Yarrow said last year, “thinking of this music not just as an art form that had beauty – and that’s admirable in and of itself – but also as a vehicle for spreading a certain kind of sensibility.”

Harry Belafonte, who credited much of his success to De Cormier, said, “What first struck me was the way in which he viewed America, the way in which he viewed the way the country was going, the way he viewed the plight of black people and the way he viewed the conditions of working-class people. He felt deeply responsible as a citizen to use his art and his power to do something to fix those things.”

“The thing I remember about him is his great humanity,” Vermont Public Radio host Walter Parker recalled. “For him, music was not about the science of tones. It was always the words, the message. He was always concerned about the human condition and how music can alleviate suffering.”

A member of the New York State Council on the Arts, De Cormier retired from his last post as director of the Vermont Symphony Orchestra in 2014. He died at a hospital in Rutland, Vt., on Nov. 7. His wife and collaborator Louise reported he’d suffered complications from a urinary infection.

“I realize physically I just can’t do things I used to do and I require a lot more sleep than I used to,” De Cormier said around the time of his retirement. “I know that age is catching up to me. But I have these great-grandchildren I have to see. … It’s been a good life. I can’t complain.”

 

 

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