(1949 - living) U.S.A.
Singer, songwriter, producer, actor, author, activist, teacher
Holly Near is a unique combination of entertainer, teacher, and activist. She was born to parents from North Dakota and New York who were political activists, ranchers, and supporters of culture in the rural community of Ukiah, California. Holly moves comfortably in this blend of Western sensibility and Eastern sophistication. An immense vocal talent, Near 's career as a singer has been profoundly defined by an unwillingness to separate her passion for music from her passion for human dignity.
Touring worldwide, Holly Near is an ambassador for peace, inviting the audience to its best self. Near is a skilled performer who brings to the stage an integration of world consciousness, spiritual discovery, and theatricality.
Although she sang publicly from the time she was eight years old, Holly's professional career began with performances in such films and television shows as Slaughterhouse Five, Minnie and Moskowitz, All In The Family, The Mod Squad, and The Partridge Family. She also appeared in Hair on Broadway. Eventually, however, music became her major focus, especially that music which articulated the social conditions of the world community. Near started writing and singing songs. Her strength as a performer lead to creative collaborations with such artists as Ronnie Gilbert, Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, Mercedes Sosa, Bernice Johnson Reagon, Inti Illimani, Bonnie Raitt, Cris Williamson, Jill Eikenberry, Michael Tucker, and Linda Tillery.
In 1972, Near founded "Redwood Records" which was a major force in alternative music for nearly 20 years. "Redwood Records" was dedicated to recording and promoting music by politically conscious artists from around the world. Near helped support the work of artists from Nicaragua, Chile, Australia, Canada, England, Argentina, Cuba, Uruguay, Viet Nam, El Salvador, Mexico, and The United States. She has received numerous awards for her work for social change, including honors from the ACLU, The National Lawyers Guild, The National Organization for Women, and MS Magazine (Woman of the Year). In 2000, Near received The Legends of Women's Music Award for her pioneering work in lesbian and feminist music.
To date, Holly has released 20 recordings and has appeared as a guest on many others. She sings a duet with Mary Travers on Peter, Paul, and Mary's Lifelines and does a beautiful rendition of Quiet Early Morning for "Where Have All the Flowers Gone", a 1998 retrospective of the music of Pete Seeger.
Holly is frequently invited to sing with choruses around the world and was the recipient of the first annual GALA Legacy Award. Near teaches master classes in performance craft and song writing. In the fall of 1999, she delivered a lecture to an international gathering of community choruses in Sheffield, England.
In 1996, Ronnie Gilbert and Holly released their third joint recording, This Train Still Runs!, celebrating Ronnie's 70th year. In the fall of 1997, Holly released With A Song In My Heart, a collection of sweet love songs of the '30s, '40s and '50s - a stylish and intimate recording. In 2000, Near began to release her out-of-print recordings, starting with Musical Highlights which contains songs she sang in a one-woman play she wrote and performed in regional theaters and off-Broadway. Next, she celebrated the feminist and lesbian movements with Simply Love: The Women's Music Collection. Holly is also the author of an autobiography, Fire In The Rain: Singer In The Storm, and a children's book, The Great Peace March.
Holly Near's most recent recording, released on her own label, "Calico Tracks Music", is called Edge, making it clear that Holly is not resting on her laurels, but continues to write and sing political songs with grace, humor and the maturity that comes from doing this work for 30 years. Holly Near's integrity earns her the reputation as one of the most powerful and articulate political artists of our time.
Holly has traveled from the fields of central California singing in support of The United Farm Workers to El Salvador where she sang for peace amidst war and conflict. She has been a powerful voice of humanity for over 25 years. Her songs were sung clandestinely in Latin American prisons and sung boldly by Irish and English women who joined together to protest war. Whether in support of nurses striking for better conditions in the emergency room or in opposition to racist violence on the police force, Holly sings a bold truth.
Twenty some years ago, there were no nationally or internationally known, out lesbian singers. Holly was a major force in bringing lesbian music to a larger audience. The music was a lifeline for thousands of people as they "came out". Holly's songs crossed the ocean and found their way to those who thought they were "the only one" or to those whose very lives were in great danger if they were found out. Lesbians in the military mentioned Holly's name as a code word while trying to find each other amidst the hostility of the barracks. For years, Holly would be a lone voice at folk festivals, peace rallies and Hollywood fund-raisers, not only daring to say the word, but often getting large crowds of people to sing "...We are gay and straight together, singing for our lives." Although Near now is in a relationship with a man, she is still a powerful voice for love and continues to include lesbian material in her work.
A peace activist and advocate for human and civil rights, Holly has linked the multitude of issues that are our lives, refusing the idea of separate "causes", calling for lesbian and gay issues to be part of the larger world peace addenda, encouraging the gay and lesbian community to have a world consciousness and end racism and sexism within the community. When asked how she keeps her energy for this work, she smiles. "I am selfish. I reach for the world I want to live in. And I believe in leaving our best we can do to our children".
Amidst all her work for peace and human rights, Holly is a consummate singer and entertainer. When she sings show tunes or songs from the 30s, her audience knows that Ms. Near could have chosen to be a Broadway musical star or a cabaret artist. And yet, these great songs come through Holly's unique world experience and we hear them as if for the first time. Out of this gentle, vibrant woman comes a huge voice, a unique sense of humor, an unexpected theatricality and a startling power. The moment she feels trapped in a genre, she breaks into a song that challenges the boxes and stereotypes. It is tempting to want to claim her as one's own. However, Holly Near is very independent, full of surprises. She is one of a kind.