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The Ballad Of Carolyn Hester

"That was my turn to live with the whirlwind," she says.

Carolyn Hester "is one of the nicest people you'll ever know," Dick Cerri says. As such, she's relatively forgiving of Farina and the gossip-worthy psychodrama that threatened to derail her career. "I knew early on that I was in trouble," she says, "and I cried every day." But still: "I wouldn't trade it."


Carolyn Hester and husband David Blume last week in Cambridge: After the near-glory years, she's back on the road. (Laurie Swope For The Washington Post)

Yet to consider the course of the Farina-Hester whirlwind, in the light of her Almost-Stardom, is to wonder how far off track she was blown.

On their first date, her would-be Svengali told her she ate too much and would lose her nice figure if she kept it up. After they were married, he got mad at her for practicing while he was trying to write. Worst of all, he was determined to insert himself into her career. He learned to play a dulcimer she'd given him and started to join her onstage when he could. Eventually he headed for London, where he wasn't known as Carolyn Hester's husband and where he started to have some success.

"He had his work, his writing, and I got to type the manuscripts," she told Hajdu. "I had my music, and he had to have that, too."

To this day, she's irked by one small but symptomatic encroachment: Farina claiming credit for Bob Dylan's big break.

After Dylan showed up that time in Cambridge, looking for work, she invited him to share the stage at Club 47. She also asked him to play harmonica on her first major-label album, on Columbia. The contact helped Dylan get his own Columbia deal.

There's one other thing she wants to correct for the record.

Yes, it's true that she pointed Farina's pistol at him in a Paris hotel room and told him to stay away from her. This was after he had become infatuated with Mimi Baez, who was 16 at the time and living with her parents in France. Yes, it was the same pistol he had insisted Carolyn smuggle across the French border strapped to her back -- at the risk of 20 years in prison -- because, he claimed, he was afraid an Irish Republican Army connection might come back to haunt him.

But hey: She never took the safety off.

It was obvious that her marriage was over. Still, she typed the first 90 pages of her husband's novel before she flew home to arrange a Mexican divorce.

The divorce came through in 1963. In May 1964, Hester made the cover of the Saturday Evening Post. But that was a year and a half after Baez's Time cover, and besides, the Beatles had already done "The Ed Sullivan Show."

In 1965, Hester filled New York's Town Hall. But she had to produce the concert herself, and besides, that was the year Dylan went electric.

The folk boom was over. And Carolyn Hester wasn't The One.


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