Sad news for folk lovers. The community lost Bill Staines, the beloved folk music icon best known for his “A Place in the Choir,” “River,” and “The Roseville Fair.” The New York Times reported his death at the age of 74 earlier this week. His wife, who works in special education, says that he died at his home in Rollinsford, New Hampshire on December 5th following a battle with prostate cancer. Bill Staines is remembered for using his music to bring people together.
His lyrics from “A Place in the Choir” really do say it all:
All God’s critters got a place in the choir,
Some sing low, some sing higher,
Some sing out loud on a telephone wire,
Some just clap their hands, or paws, or anything they’ve got
Of course, the lyrics don’t end there. Staines also added a bit about an otter that didn’t have much to say and a porcupine who talks to himself. And the story behind the lyrics is as wholesome as it can get. It really just speaks to what an enormous loss this is for the folk community.
Bill Staines Once Revealed the Heartwarming Story Behind His Hit
According to Bill Staines himself, the story behind “A Place in the Choir” involved a camping trip to Montana. Staines and his wife, Karen Elrod Staines, traveled to the southwest corner of the state with their sights set on the Tobacco Root Mountains. Very early one morning, the both of them heard an odd noise just outside their tent.
“And I figured, Well, they’ve landed,” he joked with an audience back in 2009. Upon exiting the tent, however, no aliens were spotted. Instead, Bill Staines and his wife came across a porcupine that was, in fact, “talking to itself.”
That moment essentially birthed the song which ended up on his ’79 album, “The Whistle of the Jay.” When Karen first heard the final song, she wasn’t sure whether or not it would bring in any success. She tells the Times:
“When Bill wrote ‘A Place in the Choir’ and played it for me when I got home from school, we both shook our heads and said, ‘I don’t know if this is a keeper or not.’ Obviously and luckily, we were wrong.”
You can watch one of Bill’s performances of the song here:
“Songs are like children you care about,” Bill once told a Massachusetts paper.
“You write a song and it’s born and you have to nurture it awhile and it grows up healthy and strong and then it develops relationships with people who don’t have anything to do with you. ‘A Place in the Choir’ has a life of its own. It’s like a child that’s grown up and gone away.”