Bill Rossiter spent ten years as an actor and club and coffeehouse entertainer during the 1960s and early 1970s, and then taught literature and folklore for 25 years and chaired the Humanities Division at Kalispell’s Flathead Valley Community College before retiring in 1999. Since about 1980 he has traveled throughout the Northwest, presenting songs and stories from various eras of American history, as well as teaching Elderhostels and short courses for teachers on the use of folklore in the classroom. His wife, Sharon, travels with him, helps research and co-present several programs, and makes use of her experience as director of a Montessori school when she and Bill present children’s and women's programs. Rossiter has a large repertoire of “roots music,” and has performed for western and heritage museums, arts and cultural centers, town festivals, and library series. He has performed and written music for theater and public television. He recently traveled throughout Idaho and Montana with the Smithsonian Institution’s traveling exhibits, “Barn Again!,” Key Ingredients” and “New Harmonies.”
Rossiter makes use of his background in folklore and literature to adapt and create presentations for specific groups and themes, and often writes a song for the sponsoring group or occasion.
Because Rossiter is from Montana, it is necessary for hosting groups to share in Bill's travel costs. IHC will pay travel expenses from the stateline to the hosting site. Please discuss this additional expense with Bill before applying. (Out of Idaho mileage expense will be paid directly to Bill Rossiter by the host).
From the beginning of history, we have felt the need to pass the news along often by singing about it. We hear of a fire, a murder, an assassination, a mine disaster, a national or local tragedy or triumph, a living or dead hero and we often come up with the musical equivalent of a tabloid magazine - or, perhaps a blog. These aren't the songs that made it to the hit parade or the top twenty; in fact, many of these songs showed up originally in the "poet's corner" in rural newspapers, written to a currently popular tune.
Few of the songs are polished, and often they don't "get it right," but many of them are hilarious, and they have guts and directness that make up for what they lack in finesse. And they tell what really happened. No lie. Honest.
Songs are accompanied by guitar, banjo, autoharp and harmonica.
The Great Depression of the "Dirty Thirties" left Americans with a wicked gallows humor, a sense that if they could keep laughing, they wouldn't have to start crying. This program shows that spit-in-the-demon's-eye spirit, not through history and literature, but through folklore and "illiterature."
Popular radio music sturdily ignored the Depression, assuing us that "Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries," and "We're in the Money." But rural and small-town musicians saw the Depression for what it was, poked fun at political figures of the time:
Roosevelt's in the Whitehouse, dion' his best,
Hoover didn't do nothing but around and rest
Audience members are encouraged to share their own or their family memories and stories about those hard times, and Mr. Rossiter shares stories he has collected during dozens of presentations.
Songs accompanied by banjo, guitar and autoharp.
Traditional songs of the Civil War are “snapshots” capturing particular moments, events and emotions of that conflict. These musical marginal notes on Lincoln and the War illuminate that turbulent time, not from the historian’s viewpoint but as musical snapshots taken “on the ground.” Some of these political songs, still singable 140-plus years later, make today’s “negative campaigning” look positively angelic. The songs in this presentation show the human side of the war—the love and the hatred for Lincoln, the emotions and small tragedies and triumphs that we miss if we study only battles and battalions. The presentation explores the setting and context of each song, helping us understand what each snapshot is really showing us.
Songs accompanied by guitar, banjo, harmonica and Autoharp.
“How happy am I as I crawl into bed, a rattlesnake rattles a tune at my bed, A coy little centipede, void of all fear, crawls over my pillow and into my ear.” “Seeing the elephant,” they called it. It was the pioneer’s term for getting wised up and fed up. When the 19th century settlers started West, they sang songs about the land of milk and honey. By the time they got here, they rewrote the same songs to tell of rattlesnakes and alkali water
In our cynical age, the romance of the railroad may have faded like the railroads themselves, but those steel rails tied the West to "civilization" and formed a collection of territories into a nation. Songs about railroads display attitudes about the "iron horse," from the young girl, anticipating the arrival of marriageable railroad workers to the grumpy wagoner, afraid railroads will kill his business and bring in crews of Irishmen! (Oh no! There goes the neighborhood!) Railroad songs and stories help us recapture the wonder the rails once inspired. Using these tunes and yarns, we'll explore what the railroad meant to the West and its pioneers.
Songs accompanied by guitar, banjo, harmonica and autoharp.
“No Irish Need Apply” The Irish who fled to America to escape the potato famine of the 1840s often met a wall of hostility, vividly reflected in the era’s songs. The new arrival might read “No Irish Need Apply” on a job announcement, and hear a popular song about a “black-hearted ruffian from Erin Go Bragh.” But in time the Irish “became Americans” and served with distinction in peace and in war. Eventually, the songs about “Paddy and Biddy,” hard-drinking brawlers from the “Ould Sod,” were replaced by songs about “Patrick and Mavoureen,” romantic figures from the “Emerald Isle.” In this program Rossiter uses songs and stories to exemplify the barriers between the new arrivals and respectability.
Ballads, the story-songs that served as an early-day National Enquirer, told of love and loss, of deeds chivalric and dastardly and ghostly, of gossip and legend and of other lore beloved by "enquiring minds" of ages past. Many American story-songs have their roots in the British Isles and Australia. This program features traditional and historical songs, many of them paired with their “ancestor songs” from the old country.
In singing about our food we celebrate our identity. Many food songs represent nostalgia for an uncomplicated past, when grandma cooked real food and we turned up our noses at haut cuisine. Ethnic and national groups, for example, preserve an important part of their culture when they serve traditional foods.
These songs are about home cooking, about the ethnic and farm kitchen, pork chops, corned beef and cabbage, lefse, pastries. They are all fall-back dishes when times are tough, and go-to dishes when we need to get back to basics: grits and greens, garden tomatoes, potatoes, lutefisk (not for the sissy). The songs help us understand American cultural, ethnic and social history, a simpler time when the basic rule of nutrition was "Fill 'er up."
Songs are accompanied by guitar, banjo, autoharp and harmonica.
These songs celebrate women of tradition, fiction and fact through the songs that tell their stories and praise their courage. Some valiant women are quietly strong, and others are warriors; some are famous and some obscure; some are fireworks and some are flowers. And all followed their convictions and their vision, and all are worthy of our notice – and often our admiration. The songs and tales come from several centuries of Anglo-American tradition, although some of them are the descendants of tales as old as civilization itself.