Martha Pellerin was a musician, scholar, advocate, educator and song collector—to name just a few of her many roles. Her family immigrated to Vermont from the Eastern Townships of Quebec in the 1960s, settling in Barre. Growing up, Martha navigated a complicated landscape of culture and identity. While her family spoke French at home and maintained strong ties to Quebec, Martha also spent much of her life immersed in American culture and the English language.
Ultimately she found her calling, unifying these dual elements of herself and proudly identifying as a Franco-American. Martha worked her whole adult life to understand the nuances therein, to draw out, document and sustain the stories, songs and traditions of her family and community and to help others do the same. She was committed to “progressing the culture” of Franco-Americans in Vermont and beyond.
Martha died of cancer in 1998 at 37 years old - much too soon. In this episode we hear recordings of Martha from the VFC archives as well as interviews with her son, Ian Drury, and with Burlington-based musician Michele Choiniere, one of many Franco-American Vermonters whose life was touched by Martha.
This episode coincides with a tribute concert given in Martha’s honor. It’s presented by the organization Young Tradition Vermont.
Martha Pellerin Tribute Concert
The event will be hosted by Martha’s son Ian. Participants will include a variety of family and friends, including Andy Kolovos from the Vermont Folklife Center, Mark Sustic from Young Tradition Vermont, members of the Franco American Song Class with Carmen Beaudoin Bombardier and Kim Chase, Dana Whittle and Claude Methe, Benoit and Antoine Bourque, Michele Choiniere, Carol Reed and Festival Host Band Pete’s Posse.
When: Sunday, May 5, 2019 3:00 - 5:30pm
Where: Contois Auditorium at City Hall, Church Street, Burlington, VT
$15 suggested donation
Martha and the VFC
Martha was a longtime friend and collaborator with the Vermont Folklife Center. VFC staff interviewed her multiple times when she was involved in our Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program as a master artist. But Martha did a huge amount of her own fieldwork, some of which resulted in the creation of the Martha Pellerin Collection of Franco-American Song. The collection is an online database of French and English language songs drawn from both song-book manuscripts collected by Martha and a series of six interviews conducted by Martha with Alberta Gagné of Highgate, Vermont, in 1998. Martha also partnered with the VFC to conduct field research, create curriculum materials, build public awareness of Franco American culture, and help Franco American descendants connect to their cultural legacy.
Jeter le Pont
“Jeter le Pont",” meaning literally “throw the bridge,” was Martha’s band with Dana Whittle, often joined by Claude Méthé. They recorded two albums: Entrecroisé and l’Escapade (follow links to hear samples and purchase these albumes). You’ll hear excerpts of their music in the podcast episode including the song pictured to the left called “Rame-Donc.”
From the liner notes of “Entrecroisé:”
“Most of the songs on this recording came to us from the enormous repertoire of Martha’s family (both parents are Pellerins) in Vermont and Québec. Words were found written in tattered notebooks, on scraps of cardboard (that once held nylon stockings) and on the backs of outdated calendar pages. Few of the 700+ pages in Martha’s huge pile of 3-ring binders contain musical notation. Usually, melodies come to us from the person who sings us the song. We’re in the habit of carting around “the collection” because you never know when or where you’ll find someone who knows a tune or a missing verse. We estimate that all of theses songs together weigh around 65 pounds or about .0928 pounds per song!
Jeter le Pont is dedicated to discovering, rediscovering and most important, playing and singing this music, for the joy of keeping it alive. Our perspective is colored by the culture of our region and therefore different from that of our Québec neighbors, but we believe it is valid and we strive to give it better definition through our music. Entrecroisé represents an exchange of “musical hearts” between Vermont and Québec, one that has instigated many trips back and forth over what we prefer to think of as the imaginary line.”
Interviews from this episode:
Martha Pellerin interviewed by Greg Sharrow in Middlesex, VT on January 23, 1997.
Ian Drury interviewed by Andy Kolovos in Essex Jct. VT on February 11, 2019
Michele Choiniere interviewed by Mary Wesley in Burlington, VT on April 12, 2019
To access the full interviews please contact the VFC Archivist.