WESTON CT (CelebrityAccess) — American folk singer, guitarist, producer, and songwriter Fred Hellerman, best known as the last surviving original member of The Weavers, has died. He was 89.
According to the New York Times, Hellerman's son Caleb confirmed that his father died at home in Weston, CT, on September 1st.
Heller, who was born and raised in Brooklyn, founded The Weavers with Pete Seeger, Lee Hays, and Ronnie Gilbert in 1948. Initially, the band performed locally, with a steady gig at the Village Vanguard jazz club but soon had a national #1 hit with their remake of Huddie "Leadbelly" Ledbetter's recording "Goodnight, Irene" which held the top spot on the Billboard charts for 13 weeks.
Unfortunately for the group, their rise to fame coincided with deepening of the Red Scare and growing anti-communist sentiment of the McCarthy era. While the group, on the advice of their manager, avoided their most politically pointed songs and playing at politically sensitive events or venues, it didn't prevent Pete Seeger and Lee Hays from being identified as Communist Party members FBI informant Harvey Matusow.
Even though Matusow later recanted, The Weavers were effectively blacklisted leading the group to part ways, briefly, in 1952. They reunited 3 years later for a sold-out Carnegie Hall show and a follow-on Christmas album and tour. While Seeger left the group in 1958, they continued to perform together until 1964, when the group disbanded again.
In 1980, a then ill Hays reformed the group for a final reunion concert at Carnegie Hall. The show, which took place on November 28, 1980, in front of a sold-out crowd, as to be the band's last full performance, apart from an informal performance in 1981 at the Clearwater Festival.
After the Weavers split, Hellerman focused on songwriting, arranging and producing, often using the pseudonyms Fred Brooks and Paul Campbell. His credits include the Don Williams hit "I’m Just a Country Boy" (co-written with Marshall Baker), and the Harry Belafonte classic Long About Now (written with Fran Minkoff).
Hellerman also produced Arlo Guthrie's 1967 album "Alice's Restaurant."
Hellerman married the writer Susan Lardner, the daughter of John Lardner, in 1970. The Hellermans had two children, Caleb and Simeon, according to the New York Times.