Obituary by Kathy Mack
Richard L. Rodgers, 70; Folklorist and Musician
Richard L. "Dick" Rodgers, 70, "first member" of the Folklore Society of Greater Washington (FSGW), died May 6 of a heart
attack while recuperating from surgery at Laurel Regional Hospital.
Since 1964, Mr Rodgers served FSGW in many capacities as a board member, committee chair, and informal recruiter. Fellow member Severn Savage
recalls, "He was always a source of help and encouragement and welcome to anyone."
Known for his enthusiasm and friendliness, Mr Rodgers was a familiar figure playing his homemade hurdy-gurdy at area folk festivals and at
the Maryland Renaissance Festival. The BBC even included footage of him playing his hurdy-gurdy at the Washington Folk Festival in a program
on American folk music broadcast in 1980.
Mr Rodgers' hurdy-gurdy was not always in tune - nor were his fiddle, his guitar, his bagpipes, nor his voice. Of Mr Rodgers' fiddle playing,
one local musician remembers, "his fingers were like lightning; they never hit the same place twice." Mr Rodgers himself was known to have said,
"You may have to go through 20 bad notes before you hit a good one, but it's worth it for that one sweet note."
No one could deny Mr Rodgers' passion for folk music or his encyclopedic knowledge of the history of traditional folksong as well as the earliest
participants in the folk music revival of the 1950s and 1960s. In a 1992 letter to Sing Out! magazine, Mr Rodgers wrote that he was happy to be considered
a Curmudgeon and Chief Grump in defense of "historical connection and perspective" as provided by musicians like Jack Elliot, Jean Redpath,
or the Clancy Brothers who performed "traditional songs in traditional versions." At the same time, as Maine storyteller and musician Kendall
Morse remarked, "I never heard him say an unkind word about anyone."
Mr Rodgers' sincere singing style and gravelly voice were perfect for old cowboy songs like "The Gol-durned Wheel" and "Blood on the Saddle"
and for sea chanteys like "Paddy West." In his early years in the Washington area, he was a regular at various coffeehouses, including one he ran.
He was a member of the Cathedral Avenue Cacophony, a musical group that played in various venues, including at the Maryland Renaissance
Festival in the 1970s and 1980s. In recent years, he was a regular each month at FSGW open sings and at chantey sings at the Royal Mile Pub
in Wheaton, MD. He was an excellent dancer, and even at concerts he could usually find a partner to join him when a dance tune was played.
Mr Rodgers was raised in Youngstown, OH and educated at Ohio State University. After military service (he was commissioned as a lieutenant
by the Army and was a tank instructor), he moved to Washington, DC in time for the folk music revival of the 1960s. From 1964-1967, he
edited Washington Folk Strums, a newsletter he created to enjoy press passes to concerts by noteworthy folk musicians (he always had
wonderful backstage stories to tell). The Washington Folk Strums also got Mr Rodgers his Martin guitar from Dale Music Company,
Silver Spring, MD in exchange for a full-page ad on the back cover of each issue.
Mr Rodgers true vocation was always folk music. He also wrote training manuals for the Army, sold real estate for Century21, provided
transportation to the disabled, and substitute taught for Montgomery County Public Schools. At the time of his death he was employed
by Dan's Fan City of Laurel and Rockville, MD.
Mr Rodgers was unmarried. He has no known survivors except the folk music friends who will continue his stories and sing songs in his memory.