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Caroline Paton 1932 – 2019

Caroline Ann Paton died on March 18th, 2019 aged 86. Her name may not be familiar to many of our readers in the UK, but Caroline and her late husband Sandy were well known to musicians from here who toured in America. In 1961, together with Sandy and business partner, Lee Haggerty, she founded Folk-Legacy Records in Huntington, Vermont, and over its lifetime, the label issued more than 120 albums from artists as diverse as Frank Proffitt, Gordon Bok, Norman Kennedy, Bill Staines, Hedy West, Ian Robb, Harry Cox and Paddy Tunney. Folk-Legacy was Caroline’s life’s work, and her passion for more than 50 years.

But there was a back story to their founding of that label and strong links to traditional singers in Scotland. In 1958, Sandy and Caroline and their son David, who was only months old at the time, hitched a ride from London to Edinburgh to meet up with Hamish Henderson at the School of Scottish Studies. Hamish introduced them to Jeannie Robertson and they made some early and important recordings of Jeannie and her daughter Lizzie. In the late fifties and early sixties they also recorded many traditional singers in America who had versions of Scottish ballads in their repertoire.

After a few years, Caroline and Sandy moved to a large, remodelled barn with a concert hall, recording studio, and several bedrooms in rural Connecticut, and continued their work from there. This became a welcome resting and performing base for touring musicians and resulted in Folk Legacy recording and releasing LPs by various members of the Fisher Family, namely Archie, Ray and Cilla Fisher & Artie Trezise, and LPs by Jean Redpath.

Caroline was also a singer of folk songs - sometimes she sang unaccompanied and sometimes she accompanied herself on the Appalachian dulcimer or autoharp. She also sang with Sandy and with various other younger members of her family. She and Sandy travelled in England performing in clubs and studying British folk music at places like Cecil Sharp House. They were also involved with several folk festivals back home in the US.

Caroline’s work contributes hugely to the preservation and development of American folk music. Following Sandy’s death in 2009 and many health challenges including severe arthritis and the onset of Alzheimer’s, Caroline eventually moved into a nursing home to be cared for there, and many of her friends from the folk scene helped raise funds to contribute towards her care costs. In November 2018, Caroline sold Folk-Legacy to the Smithsonian Institution, an organisation that will preserve the label and its contributions to traditional folk music, culture, and history. Caroline’s daughter says that Caroline was thrilled that the music would be able to live on, and felt that this was the right thing to do.

Together, Caroline and Sandy Paton were a very important link in the chain of the continuation of folk music traditions. They will be sorely missed.