As I listened to Tom Paxton’s “Phil,” a paean song for his friend and colleague Phil Ochs, I immediately thought of Robin Williams. “I opened the paper, there was your picture/Gone, gone, gone with your own hand/I couldn’t believe it, the paper was shakin’/Gone, gone, gone by your hand. I know I’m gonna spend the rest of my lifetime wondering why/You found yourself so badly hurt you had to die.” Phil Ochs, one of the true singer-songwriters of the 1960s, hanged himself at his sister’s Far Rockaway home on April 9, 1976. Robin Williams, the comic genius and accomplished actor and humanitarian, also committed suicide 38 years later on August 11, 2014, at his home in Paradise Cay, California. These two men shared the oft-times lonely and melancholic roles of lifting up the human condition through their art, even if it meant sacrificing their own lives.
Frank Burkett Coleman III died on December. 5th, 1970, at the age of 35, from undiagnosed malignant hypertension that led to kidney failure.
He and his wife, Gwendolyn Coleman had flourishing careers in the theatrical and operatic communities in New York City in the 1960s. They developed an interest in folk music and recorded over 200 songs, separately and together, until Frank’s illness.
Most of this music has been unheard anywhere for nearly 50 years, even by family members. They never performed any of this music publicly. Many of the original tapes are lost or extremely fragile, but a full-length cassette from Gwen’s sister, Ann, surfaced in 2017 and was digitally remastered by their son, Frank Coleman IV, which became Volume 1 of this collection. A second reel-to-reel tape was discovered and salvaged in 2018, from which this second Volume was created.
The family moved to Cooperstown, NY, three months before Frank’s death. Gwen married Fred Ermlich in 1972 and they were founding members of the Glimmerglass Opera Festival, which became a world-class destination. The family homestead continues to welcome friends and guests as Creekside Bed and Breakfast. (creeksideny.com)
Frank Coleman, Voice and guitar
Gwendolyn Coleman, Voice
Recorded at home, circa 1967-1969.