I was born in a log cabin on the Clearwater River near Orofino, in northern Idaho, September 13, 1915. My father, an itinerant preacher, school teacher, farmer, carpenter, and inventor was "musical" -- he played piano organ, harmonica, a variety of wind instruments and a bit of fiddle, and sang in a fine tenor. My first singing was in church, in one-room schools, and with my father. About 1925 I discovered cowboy and country songs, followed by the great protest songs of the 1930s. And I'm still addicted to all of them. (source: Art, Music and Recreation Center Musicians and Performing Artists file).We sadly note the loss of a woman who was a San Francisco institution. Faith Petric, who lived to be 98, passed away on October 24, 2013. In his book, Which Side Are You On, Dick Weissman accurately described her as "a sparkplug of traditional music in the Bay Area."
We knew her as someone who used the library for her research -- she was someone who knew what she was looking for and quietly went about her business of search for folk tunes and their origins. Over the years she also performed at the library.
Flyer for a Faith Petric performance, Thursday, January 26, 1984, Folk Music in the Lurie Room, Main Library
Since her father was a union carpenter, she became interested at a young age in the songs of the labor movement. She was later inspired by a concert given by Carl Sandburg at Whitman College in the 1930s where she bought his seminal song collection, An American Songbag.
Faith Petric first came to San Francisco in 1938. She recalled first arriving into the city aboard a freighter from Seattle passing beneath the recently completed Golden Gate Bridge on the 4th of July. "Coming here seemed like a homecoming -- the place where I belonged." She spent her first "three months walking around San Francisco and frequenting such bars as Jacopetti's #1 Columbus, the old Black Cat and the Green Lantern." Having played music from childhood, she maintained an active interest and joined the San Francisco Folk Music Club in the 1950s.
Faith Petric, social worker, listed in the 1963 Polk's San Francisco City Directory
She earned an M.A. in rehabilitative counseling that qualified her for a stable government job. After retiring from the California Department of Rehabilitation in 1970, she launched her career as a full-time folksinger, touring all over the United States and the world.
One of her projects was folknik, a bi-monthly newsletter of the San Francisco Folk Music Club that first appeared in 1964 and is published to this day. In an early issue she reacted to criticism of the newsletter's name and its similarity to "beatnik":
I'll admit the name was my idea and at the time no one objected or came up with anything else. ... In the mean time, I'd like to explain that (in my innocence) I tho't Nik was NICE. I first heard it when the R_ _ _ _ _ S put up their Sputnik and newspapers explained that this meant 'little friend who travels with us' or something like that... When I saw nik on the end of a word I still thought it meant it was something to love and take care of, like a friend.And indeed she did love and take care of folk music and folk musicians. Her home at 885 Clayton Street became the headquarters and meeting place for the San Francisco Folk Music Club and she became the "godmother" of the local folk music scene (as her obituary in Sing Out called her). "I get credit for what a lot of other people in the club do now, but early on I was indeed the glue that held it together. All of us do this out of a love for the music."
Home-made mailing information from the folknik newsletter of March / April 1972
Progressive political and social causes were central to her music. She stated that her goal was to "nudge the world the direction I want it to go, and music is one way to do this." She remarked at the age of 95 "When I sing a particular song, I'm in that song. I plan to sing until I can't sing anymore."
For those who want to hear Faith Petric sing, the library has copies of her eponymous L.P. record from 1979 to borrow or to listen to in the San Francisco History Center. For many years she wrote a column for Sing Out magazine which can be read online through our Music Index online database. (Go to the "Advanced search" page and search for "petric" in author search).
"A.G. Letter from San Francisco," by Hal Glatzer, Acoustic Guitar (October 1997), 32-34.
Aging Artfully: 12 Profiles: Visual & Performing Women Artists Aged 85-105 by Amy Gorman (PAL Pub., 2006).
The American Songbag, compiled by Carl Sandburg (Harcourt, Brace, 1927).
"Around the World in 25 Years or What I Did In My Vacation," Faith [Petric], folknik vol. 9, no. 6 (November-December 1973).
Faith Petric [vinyl LP], by Faith Petric (Bay Records, 1979).
"Faith Petric Passes at 98," by Mark D. Moss, Sing Out (October 25, 2013) [website].
"Folknik is a Bad Word?," by Faith [Petric], folknik vol. 1, no. 3 (March 1965), 3.
"S. F. Folk's Enduring Voice," by Meredith May, San Francisco Chronicle (September 28, 2010), E1; E3.
Which Side Are You On?: An Inside Story of the Folk Music Revival in America by Dick Weissman (Continuum, 2005).