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Freyda Epstein, 46; Folk Singer Was Part of Appalachian Music Revival

May 24, 2003|Dennis McLellan | Times Staff Writer

Freyda Epstein, a Berkeley-based folk singer who once recorded and toured with the folk group Trapezoid, was killed last Saturday in a head-on collision on a highway near Madison, Va. She was 46.

Epstein was headed to an annual weeklong gathering of folk musicians in nearby Charlottesville, her home before moving to Berkeley about four years ago.

Epstein, who played violin, viola and guitar, had long been considered one of the finest voices in American folk music and a gifted interpreter of lyrics.

A Boston native who dropped out of college to pursue her music, Epstein moved to West Virginia in the 1970s and became part of the Appalachian folk music revival. She was a member of Trapezoid from 1980 to 1988, a time in which she and the Elkins, W.Va.-based group made three albums and performed at more than 1,000 concerts.

"She was a remarkable singer," Paul Reisler, a co-founder of the group, told the San Francisco Chronicle this week.

After leaving Trapezoid, Epstein moved to Charlottesville and formed her own band, Freyda and Acoustic Attatude. She was singer-fiddler, with Ralph Gordon on bass and Bob Vasile on guitar.

Dirty Linen magazine called the trio "the best group currently on the acoustic circuit." The group's debut CD, "Midnight at Cabell Hall," won a medal for best folk album of the year in 1993 from the National Assn. of Independent Record Distributors.

"The nine vocal numbers sometimes suffer from a sentimental hippie romanticism, but Epstein's hearty alto voice and aggressive fiddle breaks redeem even the corniest lyrics," a reviewer for the Washington Post wrote.

Epstein's 1995 children's CD "Globalullabies" is a collection of international lullabies that, according to a review in The Times, "finds a perfect match in the unusual purity of Epstein's voice, with its bell-like high notes and velvety depths."

Epstein also was known as a skilled voice and violin instructor.

After moving to Berkeley, she became lead choral director for a branch of the World Harmony Chorus, which toured South Africa and Cuba within the last year.

Epstein is survived by a brother, Paul, and a sister, Deborah Lakin.

A memorial was held Wednesday in Charlottesville; another is tentatively planned for June 14 in the Bay Area.

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