Merrick Jarrett: A Brief Biography

This is a synopsis of Merrick Jarrett's self-published autobiography "My Life in Folk Music", which was released in January 1997. The 144 page work, filled with fascinating recollections and photographs from the 1940's to present, was originally written just for his family and friends. However, its wealth of information and insight into the era, and most importantly, the folk music of the era, make it simply the latest instalment in Merrick's significant, ongoing contributions to our musical community. The book itself, highly recommended, is available at Kitchener libraries.

Merrick began his musical career in the Canadian Armed Forces when, as a wireless officer serving in Newfoundland, he entertained his buddies by playing and singing Wilf Carter songs. Soon thereafter Merrick worked as a cowboy singer for radio stations in Montreal and Toronto. Merrick was one of the original "CHUM Valley Folks" with a daily program performing country and western music, and live shows throughout the area in the evenings. Three years with CHUM were followed by another three for CFRB and th e Toronto CBC station, CJBC.

In this period Merrick met American folk singer Burl Ives, and the renowned collector of Canadian folk songs Edith Fowke. He discovered traditional folk music which became his lifelong devotion.

In 1948 Merrick hosted his own weekly radio program of folk music on CKEY. He produced the show, wrote the script and sang the songs. This was followed in the 50's by several CBC radio series in conjunction with Edith Fowke. These programs carried Merrick's voice, already well known in Southern Ontario, from coast to coast and around the world on the CBC International Service.

Also in the 50's Merrick was approached to record his songs. Eventually nine albums of cowboy, traditional folk, and children's music resulted, and Merrick continues to work on recordings today.

As a solo performer (and later with his family), Merrick was a fixture at Ontario folk music clubs and festivals, where he shared the stage with such names as The Weavers, Oscar Brand, Gordon Lightfoot, Jean Ritchie, Bram Morrison, John Allan Cameron, and Joan Baez. The first Mariposa Folk Festival in 1961 featured The Travellers, Ian & Sylvia, and Merrick Jarrett. Merrick would appear at other festivals on into the 90's, including the 35th anniversary Mariposa Festival in 1996.

Unfortunately, folk music, then as now, required a day job to pay the bills. In the 70's Merrick worked as a traveling sales representative for a Canadian book publisher. This led him to libraries from Ontario to British Columbia, which in turn began Merrick's library shows. For nine years as a book seller, and then for several more under the auspices of the Ontario Library Service, Merrick visited libraries performing folk music for the children and adults.

Merrick was on the staff of the Kitchener Public Library for several years, and during this time performed regularly in the area's public schools. But it was a phone call in 1974 that evolved into Merrick's most enduring legacy to the community. Conrad Grebel College at the University of Waterloo was interested in creating an ethnomusicology course called "Traditional Folk Music in the Anglo-Saxon Tradition". Merrick, despite a lack of formal training as an educator, was given the chance to create and deliver the program. The course ran for 17 years, and Merrick taught about 3000 students. Eventually he added a second course on Canadian folk music, and migrated both to Congrad Grebel's Elderhostel programs for seniors.

Merrick continues to share his enormous collection of folk songs and ballads with generations of Waterloo region residents, by participating in the Old Chestnuts Song Circle and the Baden story telling group. He is presently working on a second book and new recordings of his music from the early CBC radio days.

Merrick Jarrett passed away in December 2005, after a fall down a set of stairs at a concert. 
An annual "Folk Night at the Registry" concert is held in his name in Kitchener, organized by the Old Chestnuts Song Circle.
Performers have included Bill Staines (2017), Dave Gunning (2016), The "Rise Again Songbook" project (2015), Eileen McGann with David K (2014), Ennis (2013), Friends of Fiddler's Green (2012), Sylvia Tyson (2011), Ken Whiteley and Mose Scarlett (2010), Finest Kind (2009), The Dixie Flyers (2008), and Haines and Leighton (2007).