Contributing spoken word readings selected from Shakespeare’s works, Meryl Streep heads an eclectic group of top-drawer talents featured on banjo master Bill Crofut’s final project, the posthumously released children’s CD, “Dance on a Moonbeam.”
Proceeds from the Telarc release will benefit young people through the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation’s Simple Gifts for Children, a group which is working with Telarc to market the record directly, as well as through any variety of nonprofits and children’s charities interested in using the CD for independent fundraising efforts.
The late folk musician Bill Crofut made more than 20 albums in his five decade career. His last work, “Dance on a Moonbeam” was conceived by the artist to offer “poetry and song and the word-music of Shakespeare to both children and adults.”
Completed late in Crofut’s life, some months after he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, “Dance on a Moonbeam” features many of the world class artists who knew Crofut or had worked with him in the past. Shortly before his death, Meryl Streep traveled to Crofut’s home in Sandisfield, Mass. where she contributed readings of Shakespeare, which were then interspersed between songs performed by vocalists Julianne Baird, Benjamin Luxon, Dawn Upshaw and Frederica von Stade. Also featured on “Dance on a Moonbeam” are familiar Crofut collaborators Chris Brubeck (his longtime musical partner), Joel Brown, Carver Blanchard, Jim Cowdery, as well as the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus Angelicus. Crofut's daughter, the artist Erika Crofut contributed eight four-color drawings that decorate the CD's elaborate 36-page booklet.
Like many of the stars and folk legends who crossed paths with Crofut over the course of his career, Streep came to Crofut as a devotee. “I got to know Bill Crofut and his way with word and song well before I ever met him,” Streep wrote in the liner notes to “Dance on a Moonbeam.” The actress recalls preparing to go on location to do the film version of Isabel Allende’s “The House of the Spirits” and buying Crofut’s “Lullabies and Dances.” The album afforded her “unending solace” during the sometimes strenuous filming. “I must have played it thirty or forty times,” Streep wrote. Crofut defied categorization without defiling the musical establishment. Cleveland born, he studied French horn and remained, throughout his life as a folk artist, inspired by the classical world. Even so, his passion led him just outside the mainstream: His folk career began in the ‘50s after hearing Pete Seeger at a college concert. When he learned that Seeger needed financial aid for his defense against the House Committee on Un-American Activities, Crofut raised $300 and became one of the folk hero’s earliest supporters in that effort. This led to a job as Seeger’s assistant, which he performed in trade for banjo lessons. Eventually, after playing at venues as diverse as Carnegie Hall, Tanglewood and the White House, Crofut established his own worldwide reputation as a composer and banjo virtuoso by successfully fusing classical, folk and jazz influences.
Streep met Crofut in 1997, at a benefit for Connecticut’s Northwest Center for Family Service and Mental Health, where she appeared with Sam Waterston. Of that encounter, Streep wrote that she remembered saying, "Are you THE Bill Crofut, the one of `Lullabies and Dances?’ That record is magical, and I played it like a mantra when I was away on location. Thank you!”
Crofut was said to have pursued his vision for “Dance on a Moonbeam” — with Shakespeare’s works juxtaposing traditionals and original folk music—because he believed that children can be “counted on to respond to the fresh impact of beauty...they need not be talked down to.” Crofut's faith in his audience and the musical landscape they shared may prove to be his most enduring legacy.
During the Thanksgiving holiday two years ago, Crofut hosted a few close friends, telling them about the CD project and briefly noting how he had been amazed that Meryl Streep knew of his work before they met. One guest pressed the ailing banjo player, asking him how the surprise of Streep's recognition had made him feel—“Oh, just wonderful,” Crofut said.
Bill Crofut’s “Dance on a Moonbeam” is available by calling Simple Gifts for Children at (800) 833-8668, on Mon.-Fri. from 8 AM - 5 PM EST. Fax orders can be made to (732) 225-1562. Orders can also be placed at www.danceonamoonbeam.org.