Holly Near is a very talented Singer, Actor and Activist. During her musical career she wrote many great songs and has worked with musicians such as Pete Seeger, Bonnie Raitt, Harry Belafonte, Arlo Guthrie and many others. She has appeared in many films and TV shows. The Mod Squad, The Partridge Family, Room 222 and more. Holly is an active feminist and is always working for social change. She answered a few question for me below.
In high school, I joined a group of three boys. For reasons I never quite understood, they called themselves The Freedom Singers. The bulk of their material was fashioned after The Kingston Trio. When I joined, we started to sing songs we learned off of recordings by The Weavers. It was much later I learned that there was a hugely important group of African American singers on the east coast who were very important to the Civil Rights movement called The Freedom Singers, one of whom was Bernice Reagon. Most people know her now as a musical scholar as well as the founder of Sweet Honey in the Rock. I later became dear friends with her. I, along with Amy Horowitz, produced their first tour in California.
My musical life has been rich with artists with social change consciousness. My parents brought a lot of records into our rural home. The styles ranged from show tunes to blue to jazz to classical to pop. We learned about the world through these artists. I would lip sync to some of the great vocalists and imagine their voices coming through my body. These recordings were amazing friends and teachers. Paul Robeson, Benny Goodman, Leontyne Price, Mary Martin, Judy Henske, The Weavers, Judy Garland, Lena Horne, Odetta and more. I went to high school with young people who went on to have great careers, musicians like guitarist Robben Ford and Mike Osborn who was John Lee Hooker's guitarist.
Although I did guest appearances in many TV shows that became iconic, I had no idea at the time. I was in my very early twenties, just running to learn the craft. It was very hard work as well as in some cases thrilling. Getting to meet Shirley Jones on The Partridge Family took my breath away. She was the wonderful film renditions of Oklahoma and Carousel. I also got to work with director John Cassavetes and actor Seymour Cassel in Minnie and Moscowitz, and with director George Roy Hill in Slaughterhouse Five.
You asked if I had a crush on David Cassidy like millions of other girls in America. It is funny. I don't think I did. He wasn't my type.
After doing film and television in Hollywood, I went to NYC to do a film and ended up staying to do a short run in the musical, Hair. While I was working there, the students were killed at Kent State. The cast gathered and decided to do a protest on stage. After all, Hair was an anti-war show. But it was also a commercial Broadway hit and it was pretty much against all rules to stop the show. The cast took a vote and I abstained. I was opposed to the war against Indochina. I had been raised in a politically conscious family. We opposed war and racism and had a labor background (my dad and mom both worked in the labor movement in southern California during World War Two). But I abstained because I didn't know where Kent State was, I didn't know what the National Guard was and I didn't want to vote on something I didn't understand. The protest took place on stage and I participated in it. Later, I met Dean Kahler who had been shot and seriously wounded (back wound fracturing the vertebrae, permanently paralyzed from the chest down). He asked me to come to a memorial at Kent and whether I would write a song. From this invitation came the song "It Could Have Been Me."
Although I did a bit more work in Hollywood, I began to write more songs, sing in music clubs, tour with anti-war campaigns and focus my energy on doing social change music. I started a record company in 1972. We supported the work of groups like Sweet Honey in the Rock, Australian singer Judy Small, Palestinian musician Marcel Khalife, African American singer songwriter Melanie DeMore, women's Latin/Jazz/Brazilian Fusion group Wild Mango and Chilean ensemble, Inti Illimani. I toured in the US and internationally, singing in commercial venues as well as events sponsored by social change groups. I became very interested in something called "women's music" in the mid seventies. I had never heard of this before as a genre, only to find out the term had only been recently coined. This lead me to work with artists such as Meg Christian, June Millington, Cris Williamson, Linda Tillery and many dozens more. This music was investigating what women might say if they stepped outside the shadow of the male dominated music business. It also pioneered lesbian feminist music.
In the eighties, I toured with Ronnie Gilbert, which was thrilling. She had a powerful voice, as did I, so neither of us needed to hold back. We played small clubs as well as sold out two nights at Philharmonic Hall in New York City. It was great fun. Later, we did a short tour with me and Ronnie plus Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie. That resulted in an historic recording called HARP, a two CD collection of the work done on that tour.
I'm currently touring, supported by a wonderful group of musicians. I call the band The Peace Becomes You Band, named after my new double CD. It is so comfortable to work with great musicians and in a time when my voice is not only still strong but has matured in a most delightful way. My tour dates get put up on my web site as they get contracted. I hope your readership will join me at one of those events. I love my audience. The concerts feel like gatherings of powerful commitment and caring. And in these times, it is very important that we try to see each other and not just email each other. To my concerts, I invite people to gathering, to think critically and feel one another's passion for peace. And perhaps most importantly, come together to be energized and inspired in the face of despair and discouragement.
Hi AlisonAs per our previous email about Holly being on break but I could send a few questions.Well here you goWhere did you grow up and did you sing and act as a little girl?Did you take any lessons for music or acting in grade school or Junior High School?What was Your first singing groups and Where did you perform?I am a huge fan of The Weavers and I know you are also. Where did you first hear of them?As a youngster I watched Room 222, The Partridge Family and The Mod Squad. Did you think they would be considered classics in later years when you were involved on those shows?Did you have a crush on David Cassidy like the millions of other girls in America?Was the horrible Kent State shootings the catalyst for you getting involved as an activist?You have an impressive array of folk artists that you performed with. Do any particular shows stand out in your mind?What was it like performing with Pete Seeger and Ronnie Gilbert when you kind of idolized them as a young singer?Are you very proud of your accomplishments?What does the future have in store? What are your plans?Thank you very much for your time. I’m proud to have this privilegeTo visit Holly's website click www.hollynear.comTo order Holly's music click the amazon ad to the rightInterview conductes by Robert von Bernewitz.This interview may not be reproduced in any part or form without permissionFor further information contact firstname.lastname@example.org