Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


FARINA, Richard and Mimi

Folksingers and songwriters Richard Farina (b 8 March 1937, Brooklyn NY; d 30 April 1966, Carmel CA in a motorcycle accident) and Margarita Mimi Baez (b 30 April 1945, Palo Alto CA; d 18 June 2001, Mill Valley CA of cancer). Richard's father was born Fariñas in Cuba, but came to the USA and Americanised his name. Richard was a bright boy who started writing young; novelist Thomas Pynchon was a close friend and dedicated a novel to him, while Richard's song ‘V' took its title from that Pynchon novel. But he had some difficulty deciding what he wanted to do. His mother was Irish; on a visit to Ireland he may have had some contact with the IRA, which then looked like a Romantic rebel movement. His first wife (1959-62) was Carolyn Hester, already a successful folksinger; he took up the dulcimer and tried to make himself useful in her career, but at first had no discernible musical talent. Mimi was the younger sister of Joan Baez, one of the biggest stars of the folk boom of the period; she was studying dance when she first met Richard at a picnic at Chartres Cathedral in France. Richard made an album January '63 at Dobell's Record Shop in London with folk-blues guitarist Eric Von Schmidt (and Bob Dylan, using the alias Blind Boy Grunt) but still hadn't shown much talent. Richard and Mimi were secretly married in France (she was only about 18 years old), then went to California where her family was suspicious at first but soon accepted him.

Richard and Mimi were both half Hispanic and half Celtic (his mother was Scottish) and had both lived in the shadow of successful folk artists, so they had a lot in common. Always interested in poetry, Richard had begun writing songs; sister-in-law Joan made a demo of his songs for Maynard Solomon at Vanguard Records which landed him a publishing contract late '63. In '64 Richard and Mimi were a hit at the Big Sur Festival, his songs and his percussive dulcimer and her much greater musicianship a winning combination (Joan, herself a good guitarist, said that Mimi was the better musician). They could have signed with Elektra but they went with Vanguard, recording their first album Celebrations For A Gray Day in the Autumn, released '65. They were a smash at the crucial Newport Folk Festival that year and their second album Reflections In A Crystal Wind was released at the end of the year. After years of rewriting his autobiographical novel Been Down So Long, It Looks Like Up To Me was published '66; he died in motorcycle crash after an autograph party in a bookstore. Friends and fans thought that his contribution had only just begun.

Mimi soon found herself with a folk sensibility in a rock world. She had a brief marriage to Milan Melvin, a producer and radio announcer. She made an album with Tom Jans on A&M called Take Heart including one of her best songs, ‘In The Quiet Morning', but most of her recording projects came to very little. After spending some time with Columbia Records she displayed some of the Baez sense of humor, saying ‘I was released but the album wasn't.' Much later, her album Solo was on Philo '85, still later on Rounder on CD. But meanwhile in '72 she had done a concert in a prison with Joan and B.B. King, and her Quaker upbringing kicked in. Out of tune with the commercial record business, and seeing how important music could be to the imprisoned, she founded Bread & Roses, a non-profit foundation to bring free music to people in hospitals, prisons, mental institutions and so on. In this way she escaped at last from the shadows of Joan and Richard, making a priceless contribution of her own. She lived to help celebrate the 25th anniversary of Bread & Roses.