Remembering Marianne ‘Jolly’ Robinson, folk singer, poet, photographer, activist

Marianne “Jolly” Robinson died Dec. 18 at the age of 91. A long-time folk singer and activist, a friend of Woody Guthrie, Pete and Mike Seeger, and many more, Marianne was also a poet, photographer, writer and editor. She was a longtime member of the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists (BFUU) and was honored as their Poet Laureate.

Marianne was sadly predeceased by her daughter Vicki Sue Robinson, the well-known singer of “Turn the Beat Around.” Marianne had a 50-year relationship with Tom Shultz, an artist/painter. They both moved to Berkeley from New York City in 1980.

Marianne was born in Philadelphia in 1928 and lived in many places during the Depression and World War II, according to an interview she did with Lena Rebecca Richardson for her book, Stories Between Us: Oral Histories from a Countercultural Congregation. “She was profoundly influenced by a community of freethinkers and the intentional community of Arden, Delaware,” according to the book. In 1948, Marianne started singing and working with People’s Songs and toured with the Progressive Party. She entered college at 41 and took classes from Margaret Mead, worked for a large public-sector union, studied low-income women in college, and worked as a freelance photographer.

In 2010, Marianne published Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire: The Restless Journey of Marianne “Jolly” Robinson, an autobiography that chronicled her life as a folk singer, activist, single working mother, poet, photographer, and writer.

Marianne is also survived by beloved nieces and nephews Mundi Gove (John), Teri Smolens, Rai Smolens, Coby Smolens, and their families.

A memorial (potluck) will be held on Saturday, Jan. 18 at 11:00 a.m. at BFUU, 1924 Cedar St., Berkeley. Please RSVP to office@bfuu.org.