Mimi Farina

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Mimi Margharita Baez, folk singer and activist: born Standford, California 30 April 1945; married 1963 Richard Farina (died 1966); died Mill Valley, California 18 July 2001.

The folk singer Mimi Farina will for ever be remembered as the child-bride whose brief and productive marriage to the novelist Richard Farina was the apotheosis of the summer of love of the 1960s, and also (less charitably) as the lesser-known younger sister of Joan Baez.

Yet, the most important work she did in her life was as organiser of the Bread and Roses musical charity, which organised over 500 shows every year for a total audience of 19,000 in convalescent homes, hospitals, Aids facilities, homeless and senior centres, psychiatric, rehabilitation and correctional facilities as well as centres for abused and neglected children. In March 2000, the organisation celebrated its 25th anniversary, with a concert at in the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House featuring such alumni of the folk scene as Peter Seeger, Jackson Browne, Kris Kristofferson, Boz Scaggs, and sister Joan.

Mimi's introduction to the folk scene couldn't have been less auspicious, beginning with a whirlwind courtship in Paris with Farina, who had been married previously to Carolyn Hester. Mimi at the time was just 15.

Farina was a romantic schoolgirl's ideal: he had smuggled rifles for the IRA, then moved to Cuba and fought alongside Fidel Castro (he was half-Cuban himself). He claimed to have blown up a torpedo boat in Ireland, and said he carried a .38 revolver to protect himself from any Loyalist revenge squad that might come calling.

They married secretly, with the novelist Thomas Pynchon, whom he had befriended when they were both students at Cornell, as best man. Pynchon was to be the subject of "V" on Celebrations for a Grey Day, one of the two seminal albums the couple recorded together in 1965, during that exciting time when folk was mutating, at first slowly and then with accelerating rapidity, into folk rock. The other was Reflections in a Crystal Wind. A third album, Memories, was released in 1968, two years after Richard Farina was killed in a motor-cycle crash on 30 April 1966, on his way home from a party to celebrate publication of his novel, Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me.

In their instrumental combination of Mimi's guitar and his own mountain dulcimer, and the way their voices blended, these albums established a stylistic hallmark that was to resonate right through the 1970s.

After his death, Mimi continued performing and recording, though not to any great effect, but her duo album with Tom Jans, Take Heart (1971), which was somewhat reminiscent of her earlier work with her late husband, was well received critically.

However, it was a concert she did with B.B. King at Sing-Sing Prison in New York, followed by an appearance arranged by her cousin to sing to patients at a half-way house for people with drugs problems, that marked out for her the activist role she was to play for the last two and a half decades of her life.

Those experiences planted the seed that was to grow into Bread and Roses (taking its name from a poem by James Oppenheim, which Mimi herself had set to music). Working at first out of her home in Mill Valley, California, from 1974, she established high standards of performance – even if the hearers might number no more than a dozen – and totally free of any cost to the client facilities. She also gathered around herself sound and lights technicians, photographers, and other technicians, to keep up the standard and keep down the cost.

At the time of her death her partner was a journalist, Paul Liberatore.

Karl Dallas

Comments