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OBITUARY Julie Felix: Singer and peace campaigner

AT THE height of her fame in the 1960s Julie Felix, who died on March 22 at the age of 81, was often referred to as “Britain's First Lady of Folk,” despite coming from California.

It was in Britain, however, where her musical career developed. After travelling through Europe, with the help of communist folk artist Bruce Dunnett, she initially started performing in folk clubs in Britain.

Landing a record contract with Decca, her debut album in 1964 consisted largely of cover versions of songs by artists like Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan and Tom Paxton.

But it was a chance encounter in a lift with TV presenter David Frost that led to her career taking off when she was offered a weekly spot on The Frost Report and later her own TV series Once More With Felix. Guests on the show included Leonard Cohen, as well as pop performers like The Hollies and Dusty Springfield.

Moving between folk circles and pop led some to feel she had become too commercialised. Yet Felix always maintained a commitment to the political protest side of folk music, doing benefits for CND and demonstrating against apartheid and the Vietnam war.

After a period living in Norway in the late 1970s, she took time off from the music scene, returning to live in the US for a while. But she started performing again after becoming involved in a peace march across Central America in 1988.

On her return to Britain, she became increasingly involved in feminist and environmental causes as well as writing songs that reflected those concerns.

In the latter part of her life, she continued speaking out against war and imperialism and regularly sang at events organised by CND and Stop the War Coalition. She also maintained she had a spiritual as well as a political side, rooted in her part Mexican and part Native American heritage.

Some of her left-wing audience found this perplexing but for Felix there was no contradiction between her political stance and having a connection with nature. Her last album, Rock Me Goddess, recorded before her 80th birthday concert in 2018, reflected both of these aspects, a highlight being the track Corbynysta.

Continuing to perform live up to a few weeks before her death, she will surely be remembered as part of that great legacy of political singers such as Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger.

 

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