Hedwig "Hedy" Grace West
singer and songwriter
2022 Inductee, Georgia Women of Achievement

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QUICK FACTS

 

Birth Date

April 6, 1938

Death Date

July 3, 2005​

Induction Year

2022

City, Town, Region

Cartersville, GA

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Hedy West is long overdue the recognition she deserves as a singer/songwriter who came to epitomize the North Georgia Southern Appalachian experience she lived. Born in Cartersville in 1938, all her life she saw marginalized people struggling to survive, from the coal miners and farmers of the Depression era, single mothers who juggled multiple jobs and children, mill workers, to the dissidents of the war in Vietnam, and she wrote about their plights. Her father, Don West's activism spurred her to put her feelings into songs and her songs into the very fabric of life in the 1950's 1960's. What Joan Baez and Judy Collins sang about, Hedy has lived, making her the most authentic voice of the "Folk Revival", recognized by her peers around the world. People across the globe learned about life in North Georgia and Appalachia from her music: "500 Miles," "Cotton Mill Girl," "Anger in the Land," "Single Girl," "brown Girl," among others.

Hedy had a fine singing voice, as evidenced by her first contest win in her teens, singing ballads in a Nashville, Tennessee contest. English musician A.L. Lloyd called her "far nd away the best of the American girl singers in the Folk Revival."

Hedy "could be amazing on any instrument," her first cousin Kenneth West stated. Kenneth grew up with the family and is currently the owner and publisher of the North Georgia News. Her older sister, Ann, lives on Lake Hartwell in South Carolina and told me how Hedy wanted to master everything her big sister did, becoming a far better musician that she wasHedy played piccolo with a symphony orchestra and performed well enough to be a concert pianist on many stages.  Ann remembers picking Hedy up at the airport once with all her instruments in tow and she was like "a Christmas tree with ornaments hanging off of her."

 

In addition to a legacy of  music, Hedy's family believed that education was an important tool for making society better. Hedy pursued higher education and even taught at the university level. Her father was a public school superintendent and college instructor; her sister Ann studied Spanish in Cuba; Hedy's daughter, Talitha is currently in medical school in NJ. Whether it was education or artistic expression, Hedy put her mark on the world.

 

Hedy's last performance was at the Eisteddfod Festival in Wales in 2004, a year before her death . Cancer had taken a toll on her voice, but her music has lived on. The girl from Cartersville, Georgia has been sung and celebrated by millions around the world.

Highlights:

  • 1938:    Born into a family of musicians, Hedy learned the piano at age 4, and by her early teens she had taught herself the banjo, with help from Burl Ives

  • 1945:    She was raised on the traditional music of the north Georgia mountains that would sweep the nation in the late 1950's and early 1960's as Folk Music. "Grandma specialized in sober or tragic songs, perhaps conditioned by her hard life." (Hedy West)

  • 1946:    Hedy's grandmother and uncle were influences on her, telling generations of family stories and teaching her traditional melodies. "You can't understand America until you understand Appalachia." (Don West, Hedy's father)

  • 1952:    Hedy was writing songs, some from her father's poetry, some from her mother's childhood memories, and singing in any venue she could find locally. She set her father's poem "Anger in The land" to music and recorded the story of a conversation Don West had with a Black hitchhiker whose brother was lynched. It was also recorded by Peter, Paul and Mary, Bernice Reagon and Pete Seeger.

  • 1955:    Hedy left to attend Western Carolina College.

  • 1959:    She went to New York City to study at Mannes College, a music conservatory now part of the New School in NYC and to study drama at Columbia University.

  • 1960:   Hedy married aerospace engineer Karl Ludoff and moved to Los Angeles, but the marriage didn't last long.

  • 1961:    Hedy signed with Vanguard Records and recorded several albums. Hedy performed in New York, at Carnegie Hall with Pete Seeger who welcomed her into the Greenwich Village enclave of folk singers.

  • 1962:    She performed at the Stanford Folk Festival.

  • 1964:    She performed at the Newport Folk Festival.

  • 1966:    She appeared on Pete Seeger's PBS television show.

  • 1967:    She released the album "Old Times and Hard Times." West says she makes music "neither for diversion nor escape; not for irrelevant play, but because music is one part of the creative activity of man that gives vital evidence that he has value and is worth continuing."

  • 1968:    Hedy was very popular in England and she moved to London where she married BBC broadcaster Pete Myers, whom she later divorced.

  • 1970:    Hedy moved to Germany and recorded two albums.

  • 1980:    She married philosophy and psychology professor Joseph Katz and moved to Stony Brook, NY where she taught courses in folk music.

  • 1988:    Following Katz's death, Hedy moved to Philadelphia where she spent the

reminder of her life.

  • 2004:    Hedy's last performance was at the Eisteddfod Festival, but in her last years' cancer had taken a toll on her voice.

  • July 3, 2005: Hedy died in a hospital in Philadelphia at age 67. Her obituary stated: "As folk singers go, Hedy West came with credentials. 11