Mimi Farina, Joan Baez’s sister and an accomplished folk singer in her own right and founder of an organization that brought free live music to the sick and imprisoned, has died. She was 56.
Farina died yesterday (July 19) at her Mill Valley, Calif., home of complications related to lung cancer, surrounded by family and friends.
She had a groundbreaking folk duo with her husband, Richard Farina, in the 1960s but was perhaps best known for founding Bread & Roses in 1974. The organization produced 500 shows annually for audiences in senior centers, prisons, psychiatric facilities, and centers for abused and neglected children.
“Mimi filled empty souls with hope and song,” Baez said in a statement. “She held the aged and forgotten in her light. She reminded prisoners that they were human beings with names and not just numbers.”
As part of the San Francisco Bay area’s folk music elite, Farina drew many musical luminaries to perform. Artists including her sister, Jackson Browne, Taj Mahal, Bonnie Raitt, and Peter, Paul and Mary all volunteered their services to make Bread & Roses a long-running success.
In the 1960s, Richard and Mimi Farina cut two albums for Vanguard Records: “Reflections in a Crystal Wind” and “Celebrations for a Grey Day.” The albums blended a folk spirit with Richard’s topical lyrics and pioneered the use of electrified instruments in a folk setting. Among their songs were “Pack up Your Sorrows,” “Raven Girl,” and “Bold Marauder.”
Richard Farina, who also was the author of the well-known counterculture novel “Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me,” died in a motorcycle accident in 1966.
Their romance is chronicled in the new book “Positively 4th Street: The Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Farina, and Richard Farina” by author David Hajdu.
Mimi Farina went on to record other albums after her husband’s death, including an album called “Solo” in the mid-1980s, but turned most of her efforts to Bread & Roses. “I suffered from comparing my voice to my sister’s,” she said in 1999. “In the end, it was a great relief to stop singing.”
Farina was born Margarita Mimi Baez in Palo Alto, Calif., in 1945. She and her older sisters, Joan and Pauline, were raised as Quakers. Mimi learned the guitar with her sister Joan during the folk music revival of the late 1950s and frequently played the folk scene around Harvard Square in Cambridge, Mass.
She met Richard Farina in Paris and they married in 1963. After her husband’s death, Farina married hippie radio entrepreneur Milan Melvin in 1968 at an improvised outdoor ceremony at the Big Sur Folk Festival. They divorced two years later.
The idea for Bread and Roses came in 1974 when she and her sister attended a show by bluesman B.B. King at New York’s Sing Sing prison. “It was phenomenal to watch the place go silent, which doesn’t happen that much in prison,” she said.
Farina is survived by her parents, sisters and her partner, Paul Liberatore.
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