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Sonia viewed singing much the same way her mother did—an everyday pleasure that could accompany and embellish any activity.
Welcome back to the Florida Folklife Collection Podcast Series from the State Library and Archives of Florida. French folk singer Sonia Malkine possessed a delicate and captivating vocal approach, which she combined with a varied repertoire of music. The songs included ancient Celtic ballads, lullabies, popular music, hymns, sailors’ songs, and French folk pieces—some centuries old, passed to her by her mother in the oral tradition when Sonia was a child.
When listening to Sonia sing, it’s surprising to learn that her gift nearly escaped undiscovered. She viewed singing much the same way her mother did—an everyday pleasure that could accompany and embellish any activity. While at a party in 1958, a friend casually asked her to sing something in French. When she had finished, she was embarrassed to realize that the clamor of the party had fallen into a hushed silence to listen. When she was asked where she sang, her answer was, “In the kitchen, doing dishes…. for my children.” Almost immediately, her audience changed radically.
The following day she recorded 17 songs that eventually comprised an album for Smithsonian Folkways; she would go on to release three albums for the label. Soon she was playing coffee houses and folk festivals around the country. She appeared on Pete Seeger’s television program, shared the stage with Jacque Brel, and delighted the audience at Carnegie Hall.
Cousin Thelma Boltin, the long-time director of the Florida Folk Festival, heard Sonia in a Minneapolis coffee house in the mid-1960s and invited her to become a part of Florida’s annual folk festival in White Springs. Sonia accepted and became an instant festival favorite, participating from the late 1960s until the mid-1970s.
The following podcast was assembled using segments from Sonia Malkine’s performances in White Springs spanning the years 1969-1975. Due to festival scheduling in those days, each artist was allotted only a brief time on stage. To better showcase Sonia’s talent we have stitched several of these sets together to create a longer concert more suited for presenting as a podcast. We think the results display the vast repertoire Sonia shared and the unique voice that brought it to life. Thanks for listening.