Singer-songwriter, storyteller, great-grandmother, pioneer and beat muse Rosalie Sorrels is as unique as an Idaho tornado and nearly as powerful.
The living legend, known as The Travelin' Lady for one of her signature songs, has been nominated for her first Grammy for the album "My Last Go Round." She is playing in the valley for two nights, tonight at Iconoclast Books in Hailey, from 6 to 8 p.m., and Thursday, Jan. 20, at Iconoclast Books in Ketchum, from 7 to 9 p.m.
Born in Idaho 72 years ago, Sorrels lives in a log cabin her father built at Grimes Creek, not far from Boise. For over 40 years Sorrels has been a part of the traditional folk music scene, having played with everyone from Mimi and Richard Fariña and Dave Van Ronk to Christine Lavin, Terre Roche, Louden Wainwright III and frequent musical partner Bruce "Utah" Phillips.
In the 1970s, she played at the Leadville Espresso in Ketchum, which was owned by her friend Millie Wiggins. Coincidentally, her grandfather, Robert Stanton Stringfellow, used to preach in the same building when it was Ketchum's only church. Over the years, she's returned often to the Wood River Valley to perform at venues such as Sun Valley and Smiley Creek.
Another singer once called her "the hillbilly Edith Piaf."
"She's one of my heroines," Pete Seeger once said. "I remember meeting her when she was a single mother back in 1959. Through the years, she's risen above her problems and written some of the most wonderful songs, and she became an earth mother to hundreds of single mothers—women in general, really—inspiring them to rise above their problems and face up to their songs. She showed by her own example of what you can do."
Sorrels, a cancer and brain aneurysm survivor, has had more than her share of pain. It informs her music and always has.
While living in Salt Lake City she met many musicians as well as literary figures such as Oscar Zeta Acosta, Hunter Thompson and Studs Terkel.
Thompson wrote introductory liner notes for one of her albums. Robert Creeley penned a poem about her, and composer and filmmaker David Amram played French horn and flute on an early albums. Studs Terkel included interviews with her in two of his books including "American Dreams: Lost and Found."
She played the Newport Folk Festival in 1966. The University of California at Santa Cruz has a Rosalie Sorrels Archive in its Beat Generation Archives. One of her biggest influences in the early years, singer-songwriter and activist Malvina Reynolds called her a "rollicking anti-hero, a first rate poet-songwriter and a genius storyteller."
In 1990, she won an award from the World Folk Music Association, named for one of folk music's most beloved practitioners, the late Kate Wolf. Sorrels has recorded over 20 albums and written three books, including "Way Out in Idaho."