The 2007 Ralph Rinzler Memorial Concert was a tribute to Bess Lomax Hawes (1921-2009). Bess enjoyed many professional lives, and much could be written about each of them. As a college professor, she was a model to many. As a performer, with Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and the renowned Almanac Singers, she influenced legions. As a mentor, she contributed to hundreds of careers. Her careful work at the Smithsonian shapes our practice to this day. Her films are still sought by scholars. And, of course, her labors at the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) for the recognition of traditional artists will affect generations to come.
In 1975, Bess came to the Festival to be the research coordinator for Regional America's California program. At that time, she was a professor of anthropology at San Fernando Valley State, now California State University- Northridge. She left her academic position in 1976 to become deputy director for presentation during the gargantuan 1976 Bicentennial Festival, which showcased the best of American and world traditional cultures for three solid months.
In 1977, NEA chairman Nancy Hanks hired Bess to oversee a fledgling folk arts-funding category, which was embedded in other agency funding programs. By February of 1978, Bess had established the standalone Folk Arts Program, which had a dedicated budget. Her work over the next few years helped build a network of folk arts specialists around the country; develop folk arts-master apprentice programs in a number of states; and fund individual projects, such as festivals, tours, exhibitions, media documentation, and fieldwork. The National Endowment for the Arts named one of its most prestigious awards for her, and in 1992 she received the National Medal of Arts, the highest award our nation bestows on artists and those who nurture them.
Barry Bergey and Madeleine Remez were Curatorial Advisors and Hannah Smith was Coordinator. Barry Bergey and Dan Sheehy were Presenters.