Hamish Henderson was working in the School of Scottish Studies and Redpath took a keen interest in the archive of tapes and discs of music and songs. To help pay her way through her studies, she worked as a driving instructor and undertaker's assistant. She learned about 400 songs, together with the oral folklore that went with them. In March 1961, at the age of 24, she went to the United States. Her first performance was in San Francisco.
Later she met up with Rambling Jack Elliott and Bob Dylan in Greenwich Village. The natural warmth and power of her voice brought her to perform at Gerde's Folk City. In 1963, following a concert performance, she signed up with Elektra Records. In 1975 she switched to the Philo label.
From 1972 to 1976 Jean was artist-in-residence at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. She lectured in folklore and gave talks in schools. In 1976 Redpath was embarked on a project to record all the songs of Robert Burns. Some being folk songs, some Burns' own compositions, and most a mixture of the two. Twenty-two volumes were planned, but when her collaborator, the composer Serge Hovey died after seven volumes, it came to a premature end.
Hovey did the instrumental arrangements for 323 songs, and Redpath felt that no other musician could replace him. The albums won critical praise from around the world. In 1986 she recorded "Lady Nairne," a collection of songs written by Scottish women. She has sensitively reconstructed many songs that might otherwise have been lost. Between 1974 and 1987, Redpath appeared regularly on Garrison Keillor's "Prairie Home Companion" radio show from NPR.
She has also appeared on Robert J. Lurtsema's "Morning Pro Musica" from WGBH in Boston. She has toured throughout the U.S. and to Canada, and played venues in South America, Hong Kong, and Australia, including the Sydney Opera House, and has performed often at the Edinburgh Folk Festival. In 1977, Redpath appeared at a royal banquet at Edinburgh Castle for Queen Elizabeth II, during Royal Jubilee Year.
In spite of all her musical success, she has never had formal musical training. From 1979 Redpath was a lecturer at the University of Stirling, Scotland, occasionally making a sojourn to Wesleyan University. For ten years she gave courses in Scottish Song at the "Heritage of Scotland" Summer School at Stirling University. She was awarded the MBE, as well as being named a "Kentucky Colonel" by the Governor of Kentucky. A portrait of Redpath by Alexander Fraser hangs in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh. In 1996 she launched the Burns International Festival. In 2009, Redpath made an appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman, singing "Some Kind of Love" by the late John Stewart of the Kingston Trio. Read more on Last.fm.
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