Mimi Farina, singer-activist, 56, dies
Sister of Baez, member of 'folk royalty,' had cancer
July 19 Singer and social activist Mimi Farina, who with her sister and
fellow singer Joan Baez was a member of "folk royalty" in the 1960s but
left behind a music career to devote herself to charitable work, died of
cancer Wednesday at her home in Marin County, California. She was 56.
FARINA RECORDED SEVERAL hits in the 1960s both as a solo artist and with
her husband, Richard Farina, who was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1966.
She was best known in the San Francisco area for founding Bread & Roses, a
nonprofit organization launched in 1974 that brought live music and top
performers to people in jails, psychiatric wards and drug rehabilitation
"Mimi filled empty souls with hope and song. She reminded prisoners that
they were human beings with names and not just numbers," Baez said in a
statement released to the Bay City News Service. "The devastation I feel at
losing her is unbearable."
Farina leaves behind her parents, Albert Baez and Joan Baez Sr., as well as
her two sisters, two nephews, a niece and her partner, reporter Paul
A public ceremony honoring Farina at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco is
scheduled for Aug. 7.
Folk Singer-Activist Mimi Farina, Sister Of Joan Baez, Dies At 56
July 19, 2001
Mimi Farina, who followed the example of her older sister Joan Baez by
forging a career as a folksinger and activist, died Wednesday (July 18) at
her home in Mill Valley, Calif., of complications related to lung cancer.
She was 56.
Farina was part of a circle of '60s singer-songwriters that included Baez,
Bob Dylan, and her husband
Richard Farina. After Richard Farina's death in a 1966 motorcycle accident,
she resumed her musical career, but by the '70s had shifted her focus to
community service. She founded the non-profit group Bread & Roses, which
presented music to people confined to jails, psychiatric treatment
facilities, and drug rehabilitation centers.
"Mimi filled empty souls with hope and song. She held the aged and
forgotten in her light. She reminded prisoners that they were human beings
with names, and not just numbers," said Joan Baez in a statement to the Bay
City News Service, "The devastation I feel at losing her is unbearable."
Margarita Mimi Baez was born April 30, 1945 in Palo Alto, Calif., the
youngest of three daughters. When her family moved to Boston in the
late-'50s, Joan became a fixture on the Cambridge, Mass., folk scene, while
the teenaged Mimi contented herself simply playing guitar at home or among
friends. Mimi subsequently moved to Paris, where she met
singer-songwriter-author Richard Farina. They were married in 1963.
Richard and Mimi Farina recorded two albums for the Vanguard label,
Celebrations For a Grey Day in 1965 and Reflections in a Crystal Wind the
following year. They joined the Greenwich Village folk music scene, along
with Baez and Dylan, her onetime boyfriend. (The interweaving of these
musicians' lives is detailed in biographer David Hadju's book Positively
4th Street: The Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Farina,
and Richard Farina.)
Mimi returned to music in 1967, and in 1971 recorded Take Heart for A&M
Records with singer-songwriter Tom Jans. A 1973 Farina album for the label
was never completed, but she continued to perform through the end of the
decade. In 1985, she released the album Solo.
After Farina founded the Bread & Roses non-profit organization
(www.breadandroses.com) in 1974, she gradually abandoned performing, with
the exception of her '95 and '96 performances in concert with Baez, and on
the Baez album Ring Them Bells. In 2000, Bread & Roses celebrated its 25th
anniversary with a San Francisco concert hosted by Farina, and featuring
Baez, Jackson Browne, Kris Kristofferson, Boz Scaggs, and Pete Seeger.
Farina is survived by her partner Paul Liberatore; her parents, Albert and
Joan Baez; her sisters Joan Baez and Pauline Bryan; two nephews, and a
niece. A ceremony to honor Farina is scheduled for Aug. 7 at Grace
Cathedral in San Francisco.
Folksinger Mimi Farina, Bread and Roses founder
Gift of live music for thousands of shut-ins
Joel Selvin, Chronicle Staff Writer
Thursday, July 19, 2001
Mimi Farina, folksinger and founder of the Bread and Roses charitable
organization, died of cancer yesterday morning at her Mill Valley home. She
was 56. Her family, including sister Joan Baez, were at her bedside.
"She finally won her battle with cancer," Baez said.
Ms. Farina found out she had lung cancer in December 1998. She continued
with plans for the gala 25th anniversary celebration for Bread and Roses at
San Francisco's War Memorial Opera House in March 2000, where she appeared
wearing a turban to hide her hair loss from chemotherapy treatments. She
made jokes about not having bad hair days any longer.
With her husband, Richard Farina, she recorded a pair of classic folk
albums in the mid-60s. Her husband, who wrote "Been Down So Long It Looks
Like Up to Me," died in a motorcycle crash on his way home from his first
book- signing in 1966. It was her 21st birthday
Her romance with Richard Farina was chronicled in the current best-seller,
"Positively 4th Street: The Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi
Baez Farina, and Richard Farina" by author David Hajdu.
Ms. Farina continued her career in music after her husband's death,
although it was as founder of the charitable organization Bread and Roses
that she found lasting rewards. The nonprofit organization in Marin County
presents live music performances to shut-ins at hospitals, prisons and
senior homes. Bread and Roses presented more than 500 performances at 99
institutions last year with more than 600 volunteers and a staff of only nine.
Mimi Farina, the youngest of three daughters, was born while their father
studied for his doctorate at Stanford. She lived with her family in Baghdad
and Paris, where she met Richard Farina, a half-Irish, half-Cuban beatnik.
They married and moved to the Carmel highlands and pursued a career as a
folk-singing team. Richard and Mimi Farina recorded two albums,
"Reflections in a Crystal Wind" and "Celebration for a Grey Day," and at
least one of their songs, "Pack Up Your Sorrows," was an airplay staple in
the early days of underground FM radio. His dulcimer still sits in his
After her husband's death, she continued to play music, including a brief
fling with an acid-rock band, the Only Alternative and his Other
She joined the popular San Francisco satirical theater troupe The Committee
the next year.
She married hippie radio entrepreneur Milan Melvin in 1968 in an improvised
outdoor ceremony at the Big Sur Folk Festival, a counterculture social
event prominent enough to have been chronicled in the pages of early
Rolling Stone. The marriage ended in divorce two years later. She recorded
an album with singer-songwriter Tom Jans in 1971, the last album she
released, but at that point Ms. Farina was tiring of the music business
"I suffered from comparing my voice to my sister's," Ms. Farina said in
February 1999. "In the end, it was a great relief to stop singing."
The idea for Bread and Roses came in 1974 when she and her sister attended
a moving show by bluesman B.B. King at New York's Sing Sing prison in 1974.
"It was phenomenal to watch the place go silent, which doesn't happen that
much in prison," she said.
But it was a performance she gave a few months later at a halfway house for
troubled teenagers arranged by a cousin that crystallized the idea for
Bread and Roses.
"It wasn't inspiring at the moment," she said. "It was hard to get their
attention, this roomful of unhappy teens. But I realized I could imagine
people who could be really good at this."
At first, Ms. Farina financed the organization with annual benefits at the
Greek Theater in Berkeley. These were all-acoustic concerts, long before
anyone called it "unplugged," that featured three days of the greats and
near- greats of folk, blues and rock, Kris Kristofferson, Ry Cooder,
Jackson Browne, David Crosby and Graham Nash, and, of course, her sister.
She shifted her fund-raising approach to corporate and private donors after
losses from the sixth annual event threatened to bankrupt the organization.
The 2000 Opera House gala was the cornerstone of a campaign to raise $3
million to ensure the financial stability of the organization.
Among the many name entertainers who have volunteered for Bread and Roses
are Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Herbie Hancock, Huey Lewis, Neil Young and
Van Morrison. Bread and Roses brought jazz great Jon Hendricks to sing at
the Redwoods, a Mill Valley retirement home, and presented Willie Nelson to
Delancey Street residents. Michael Feinstein once stayed at Laguna Honda
hospital until he sang every request. At the rate of about 10 per week,
Bread and Roses produces more shows than Bill Graham Presents.
There are now more than 15 other community organizations modeled after
Bread and Roses across the country.
Ms. Farina is survived by her mother and father, Albert and Joan Baez, her
two sisters, Joan Baez and Pauline Bryan. A memorial service will be held
at Grace Cathedral, but a date has not been set.
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