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Hally Wood

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Harriet Elizabeth Wood, better known professionally as Hally Wood, was born in Washington, D.C., in 1922, the daughter of a U.S. Army doctor whose postings took the family around the country, finally landing them in San Antonio, TX, where he retired (and died soon after in an accident). Wood attended the University of Texas in Austin, studying music, and while there met John Lomax and his son Alan Lomax, as well as future radio host John Henry Faulk. Wood's own musical gifts were considerable -- she was blessed with perfect pitch, among other talents. It was during this period that she developed a fascination with folklore and, especially, folk music. She and Faulk were married in 1940, and she worked with the Lomaxes, especially Alan Lomax, throughout the next four decades of her life. She moved to New York City after the end of the Second World War, and got to know and work with Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Jean Ritchie, and Leadbelly, among other notables on the folk music scene. She and Faulk were divorced in 1947, a little less than a decade before Faulk's blacklisting and successful lawsuit over it would carve out a place for him in the history books. She later married Lou Gordon, a veteran of the Spanish Civil War and a member of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, who also later co-founded the Woody Guthrie Children's Fund. She lived in New York City and Long Island during this period, singing occasionally, but in 1953 she returned to Austin and divorced her second husband. For a time, Wood was employed by the University of Texas in transcribing a body of Lomax field recordings held by the university, while she belatedly finished her degree. She moved back to New York in the mid-'50s and made her living as a secretary while dabbling in music, including a stint as a member of the quartet the Skifflers, whose ranks also included Milt Okun and Leon Bibb. Wood moved to Puerto Rico soon after her marriage to her third husband, Robert Clarence McCleod Stevenson, who was a department head at the University of Puerto Rico in Rio Piedras. Although she continued to work in music occasionally, she was very much on the sidelines of the late-'50s/early-'60s folk music boom, despite the fact that she was an influence on many of the participants. With her husky, powerful voice, she might have been the Judy Henske of her generation, and she was also influential as a composer and interpreter -- apparently, it is her rendition of the song "Mary Hamilton" (which had several traditional sources) that became the best known amid the late-'50s and early-'60s folk revival. Wood also appeared on several Folkways albums. She was a serious collector of folk songs as well as a performer and composer. She died of lung cancer in 1989 at the age of 66. ~ Bruce Eder