Robert DeCormier (left) performs with Pete Seeger (right) many years ago.
By Christopher Biddle
The Vermont choral group Counterpoint has recorded “All Mixed Up!” an album of songs written by folk music legend Pete Seeger. The songs were arranged by the group’s founding artistic director and Mt. Holly resident Robert DeCormier, a longtime friend of Seeger and one of Vermont’s renowned musical geniuses.
DeCormier met Seeger in 1945 when DeCormier was singing in a union chorus of the Congress of Industrial Organizations. Seeger attended one of their rehearsals, DeCormier said. After the war, DeCormier studied at the Juilliard School of Music in New York but remained a fixture of the folk music scene. He attended parties, concerts, and “hootnannies” put on by People’s Songs, an organization founded by Seeger and folk music legends Lee Hays and Alan Lomax.
Through his involvement with People’s Songs, DeCormier met long-time collaborator Harry Belafonte. He also found himself part of a group of singers and activists known as the Caravans for Wallace, who supported Henry Wallace’s candidacy for president, as well as other members of the Progressive Party running for office at the time. In 1948, while campaigning for an African-American woman running for Congress in St. Louis, Mo., DeCormier and a friend were arrested at a diner—“just for his being black,” DeCormier recounted, “and me because I was with him.”
DeCormier would later tour with the Robert De Cormier Singers from 1963 to 1987 and would become the founding conductor for the Vermont Symphony Orchestra Chorus in 1993. In 2000, DeCormier founded Counterpoint and retired as its artistic director in 2011.
Seeger and DeCormier remained friends until the folksinger’s death in 2014, and although their careers took different shapes, DeCormier said, “We both in a sense were doing the same thing, working to make people sing, and singing to bring people closer together, and to educate, and try to make this world a better place.”
The inspiration to record an album of Seeger’s music came after DeCormier and Counterpoint reunited for a tribute to the late singer in March of 2014. Nathaniel Lew, Counterpoint’s current artistic director, said on the group’s Kickstarter page, “the audience response was electric—unforgettable. This album will showcase what Robert DeCormier and Counterpoint do best.”
The album was recorded at St. Michael’s college in Burlington after a Kickstarter campaign that raised over $34,000, and is set to release later this year.