In Memoriam: Bess Lomax Hawes

Bess Lomax Hawes

Bess Lomax Hawes

January 21, 1921- November 27, 2009

 “I have always had the unshakable belief that every single human being has some knowledge of important elements of beauty and substance, whether everybody else knows them or not, and the appropriate introduction of those items of intellectual power into public discourse has been the unswerving thrust of my work, whatever form it took, all my life.

—Bess Lomax Hawes, in her memoir Sing It Pretty

 Bess Lomax Hawes died last week at the age of 88. She was an extraordinary woman: smart, kind, funny, insightful, empathetic. As director of the Folk Arts Program at the National Endowment for the Arts from 1977 to 1992, she made it her business to see to it that the nation’s folk arts were recognized and funded at the state level by strategically placing folk arts coordinator positions in state arts councils around the country.  She came up with the idea of the National Heritage Awards—the lifetime award given to traditional artists by the National Endowment for the Arts. She was responsible for broadening the field of public folklore, and in doing so helped ensure that the amazing variety of traditional arts in the United States were acknowledged and celebrated.

She had so many facets that one obituary doesn’t do her justice.  So here are a couple, one from the Boston Globe that celebrates her having written the song “Charlie on the M.T.A.,” and one from the Huffington Post

 Bess Hawes left this world a better place.

In Memoriam written by Debbie Fant, Director of Programming at Northwest Folklife

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