Spotlight: Al Hirsch
You know how sometimes you meet someone and you know right away you’ll get on like a house on fire? I met Al Hirsch very recently, and I’ve learned so much about his work and heard so many great stories already, that I just had to share him with you all.
Al is a full-time musician working out of Seattle. Currently he’s working as a musician and storyteller for kids, with some gigs in folk music. He’s a linchpin of the local and maritime music community.
You might recall the Folk Music Blog article on Ivar Haglund. The Halibutts band mentioned in that article was composed of three local musicians, one of them being Al Hirsch. It’s very difficult to find the album they recorded, but it’s a very fun live album recorded at Ivar’s Salmon House. You can reach out to Al on his website to grab a copy of this album.
Al is also a board member for the Seattle Local arm of the Musician’s Union. He’s a huge proponent of the Union, and is working very hard to bring awareness to the younger generations of musicians about the Union with hopes to bring membership numbers up. He is also thinking hard about ways to make the Union work more for its members, and is an instrumental member in striving to turn it around.
He has a history of action through music. When asked about his favorite memory of a protest, he told me a story about one he attended at his college. The protest was of the actions of the police in the Kent State Massacre. He said students were terrified of this protest because of what happened there, but he and a bunch of his friends went anyway. They marched through a line of armed policemen, and he says it was one of the most memorable moments of his life.
Another memorable moment was in 1997, when Pete Seeger came to this area for the NW Folklife Festival. Hirsch joined him on stage for a session singing Woody Guthrie’s children songs. I was blown away to hear that there was a recording of Seeger that was local and relatively unheard. The CD is near impossible to get your hands on, but you can hear a live recording of the concert by clicking here. There’s a picture of the cover below, in the bottom left picture on the back you can see Hirsch to the very left and Seeger with the banjo.
Now, he is working on teaching, writing, and preserving local (PNW) and maritime music. He plays alone, teaching kids about folk music by singing kids’ songs, bringing instruments and whistles out for them to play and hear, and telling stories and jokes for them. His energy with the kids is so fun to watch, and his stories are timeless. He’s been a children’s entertainer for 45 years, and in 1993 won the Parent’s Choice Gold Award.
He also writes and plays music with long time friend Doug Bright, a multi-instrumentalist with a smile that doesn’t stop and perfect pitch. The two of them have recorded together (click here to hear them on Hirsch’s album “Northwest Legends”, including songs written by Hirsch – check out The Denny Party!), and perform together around the area. Currently working in senior centers a great deal under the name “The Marvelous Minstrel Boys”, the two of them play off of each other like they read each other’s minds. See a video of them below, and check out Al’s website – you will be glad you did.