acoustic music in the Pete Seeger tradition

Bill Berlinghoff
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A Musical Biography

From the early grades through college, Bill sang in choral groups large and small and took some private vocal training.  The first glimmers of folk music came to him when his uncle Jim Webb from Tennessee would play his guitar and sing “the old songs.” His first guitar came from Uncle Jim, too, but it stayed in a closet until Pete Seeger and The Weavers broke through the McCarthy era blacklist and gave a concert at Carnegie Hall on Christmas Eve, 1955.  That concert album was so popular with Bill and his high school friends (and LOTS of other folks) that he dug out Uncle Jim’s guitar and began to learn those songs.  From then on, folk music (some call it “roots music” now) became his lifelong avocation.

After the Bill & Robie duo broke up, Bill continued to do solo gigs in Connecticut, then his home base, and in Maine, balancing a full-time job and graduate study with his music.  Living in the DC area in the late 70s, he played regularly at several places in northern Virginia.  After moving back to Connecticut in 1980, he made his first (only) album, A Time for Getting Wiser, recorded by Fred Hellerman, one of the original Weavers, at his studio in Weston, CT.  Originally released in vinyl (!), it is now available as a CD.

Around Christmas 1966, Pete Seeger came to Albany to headline a fundraising concert for his planned sloop, Clearwater.   He gathered some local folk musicians to fill out the concert roster, Bill & Robie among them.  By happenstance, Bill & Robie’s apartment was close to the concert venue, so after rehearsal Pete and his wife Toshi spent the afternoon and had supper there.  Bill readily attests to the fact that Pete was as charming, gracious, and unpretentious offstage as he was on.   He and Toshi even sent them one of Pete’s songbooks as a Thank-you for their modest hospitality!  And his musical style was so infectious that Bill just had to get Pete’s book, How to Play the 5-String Banjo, and learn.

Bill’s musical performing roots run deep.  His grandfather Henry was a drummer and bandleader.  His Young American Band was the first act ever booked by the now-famous, worldwide William Morris Theatrical Agency.

In 1961 Bill married Robie, a lovely, talented singer with a magnificently high voice and an interest in folk music.  The duo of Bill & Robie performed at pubs, coffeehouses, and summer camps throughout the 60s and early 70s.  In 1964, while living in Albany, NY, they were two of the seven founding members of the Pickin’ & Singin’ Gatherin’, an informal club of like-minded “folkies” that now has hundreds of members in the upstate New York area.

Two cross-country summer trips to the Pacific Northwest and back, doing impromptu gigs, preceded a final move to Maine, where he has lived for 30 years.  Since then he has been playing mostly (but not exclusively) in Maine, always looking for opportunities that give him an excuse to travel, and writing a few songs, too.  His songs are well received everywhere he goes.  For a sampling of what people say about his shows, see the Reviews page.

  One travel opportunity arose in 2017, when he was invited to perform at the Third Annual UnampliFire Festival of World Wide Roots Music in London.  This festival was a truly wonderful springtime event at the Master Shipwright’s Mansion in Deptford, right on the Thames.  The total absence of amplifying equipment created a musical intimacy between the performers and the 500 attendees.  

© 2018 Bill Berlinghoff

[ This and top left photo by Claire Shovelton.]