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Boston Bluegrass Union Announces 2013 Heritage Award Winners

Betsy SigginsBoston, MA -- The Boston Bluegrass Union (BBU) is proud to announce the recipients of the 2013 BBU Heritage Awards. The awards are presented each year by the BBU to honor artists and those working behind the scenes that have made substantial contributions to furthering bluegrass in New England. The awards will be presented during the 28th annual Joe Val Bluegrass Festival, Presidents Day Weekend, February 15-17, 2013, at the Sheraton Framingham, Framingham, MA.

This year’s Music Industry winner is:
Betsy Siggins, Executive Director of the New England Folk Music Archives and longtime fixture in the Cambridge music scene - For more than half a century Betsy has been an integral part of the folk music scene, watching it rise from modest beginnings at the Golden Vanity, Café Yana, and Club 47 to a movement of international acclaim. In 1958, she arrived for her freshman year at Boston University. Her roommate was Joan Baez. As a waitress, gallery sitter and Sunday morning chef, Betsy found a community in the space of Club 47 and the musicians it collected. Under the guidance of Betsy, Jim Rooney and others, the venue helped launch many careers and served as a home for regular visits from Doc Watson, Bill Monroe and others. In 1960, Betsy married Bob Siggins of the Charles River Valley Boys, another of our 2013 Heritage Award winners.

When Club 47 closed in 1968, Betsy went on to work with many nonprofits. In Washington DC, she assisted Ralph Rinzler with the Festival of American Folklife. In New York, she worked for over twenty years, founding programs and numerous public service organizations helping the disenfranchised.

In 1997 Betsy returned to Club 47's successor, Club Passim, and for 12 years served as executive director, creating nonprofit programs such as Culture for Kids, an after-school program for underserved Cambridge students, the Passim School of Music, and the Passim Archives. Now, as founder of the New England Folk Music Archives, she has turned her energies to establishing a permanent home for the legacy of the folk music community in New England.

This year’s Musician award winners are:
The Charles River Valley BoysThe Charles River Valley Boys, Pioneering Cambridge-Based Bluegrass Band – One of the first urban bands to play bluegrass and old time music, they helped spark the folk revival in the early 1960’s at venues such as Club 47. While their original repertoire centered on songs by Uncle Dave Macon, Charlie Poole and Gid Tanner & His Skillet Lickers, the group's 1966 album, Beatle Country, marked one of the earliest examples of the British rock band's songs being rearranged as country music.

The genesis of the Charles River Valley Boys began when Bob Siggins, a banjo player and student at Harvard University, and Ethan Signer, a Yale University graduate who came to Cambridge to study biophysics at M.I.T., met Eric Sackheim, a transplanted New Yorker who was a fan of old-timey music and had a large repertoire of songs and a crateful of rare recordings. Harvard’s WHRB DJ Lynn Joiner provided the band’s name, as a pun on the Laurel River Valley Boys and the band was ready to make their debut at Harvard University's Lowell House. They continued to attract attention with frequent appearances on WHRB's shows Balladeers and Hillbilly at Harvard. Tapes from these shows were released on the band's self-produced debut album, Bringin' in the Georgia Mail. Over the next few years, the group became regular performers at Tulla's Coffee Grinder, a coffee house in Harvard Square as well as the Club 47.

In 1962, Paul Rothchild, a friend of the band who had worked as a record distributor in the Boston area, produced their second album on his own label, Mount Auburn Records. He then began working for Prestige Records, which reissued the album as Bluegrass and Old Timey Music (1962), and produced a further album on the label, Blue Grass Get Together, with Tex Logan, in 1964. By that time, the group comprised Siggins, Signer, John Cooke (guitar, vocals), and Fritz Richmond (washtub bass, vocals). Between 1963 and 1965, the group performed and toured on a full-time basis.

As the Charles River Valley Boys' full-time group status became more solidified, the membership changed. By 1966, the band consisted of Siggins, Joe Val, James Field, and Everett Alan Lilly. The son of immigrant Italian parents, Val, who worked as a typewriter repairman, was a master of bluegrass mandolin and had an unforgettable high tenor voice. After sitting in often with the Lilly Brothers and Don Stover at the Boston’s Hillbilly Ranch, he met and formed a band with Bill Keith and Jim Rooney. When Keith joined Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys and Rooney went to Greece to study under a Fulbright scholarship, Val joined the Charles River Valley Boys. Guitarist and vocalist Field had been the lead singer of the New York City Ramblers, a group that featured mandolinist David Grisman. Upright bass player Lilly was the son of Everett Lilly of the Lilly Brothers.

After Elektra Records hired Paul Rothchild as an A&R producer, the Charles River Valley Boys sent him a demo tape of four songs, including bluegrass-style renditions of the Beatles tunes "I've Just Seen a Face" and "What Goes On." Impressed by what they heard, Rothchild and co-producer Peter K. Siegel conceived the idea of expanding the concept to a full-length collection of Beatles songs.

Augmented by California guitarist Eric Thompson, who had also played with the New York Ramblers, Nashville fiddler Buddy Spicher and West Virginia dobro player Craig Wingfield, the band recorded Beatle Country in Nashville in 1966. More than just the first rendition of the Beatles as country music, Beatle Country presaged Newgrass, which it antedated by several years. In that regard, it was a groundbreaking recording, demonstrating that material from outside the genre could be rendered as bluegrass. The album became a much-sought-after collectors' item before being reissued on CD by Rounder in 1995.

The Boston Bluegrass Union is a 501(c)3 non-profit, all volunteer organization, dedicated to preserving and promoting this original American music genre. Celebrating our 37th season, the BBU is the premier source for events, education, and information on bluegrass music in the Northeast.

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