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the Marin (CA) Independent Journal Online

Bread and Roses Founder Singer-Activist Mimi Farina Dead at 56

Beth Ashley
Mimi Farina

Mimi Farina

MILL VALLEY, CA - Expressions of love and sadness greeted the death yesterday of Mimi Farina of Mill Valley, noted '60s folk singer and founder of Bread & Roses.

She died at home with family and close friends at her bedside after a two-year battle with neuroendocrine cancer. She was 56.

Music runs in the family; her sister is Joan Baez.

"She was an angel," said Bay Area TV personality Jan Yanehiro. "She gave of herself and asked nothing in return."

"She was the heart and soul of heart and soul," said comedian Michael Pritch-ard of San Rafael.

Cassandra Flipper, executive director of Bread & Roses, said "We have lost a unique person in the world of arts and social service."

Bread & Roses, begun in 1974, brought international recognition to Ms. Farina for its compassionate and life-affirming goal: Bringing free live music to people confined in institutions - jails, hospitals, juvenile facilities and rest homes.

Eighteen months ago, Ms. Farina appeared onstage at the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco to celebrate, with a host of show biz headliners, the agency's 25th anniversary.

Last year, the agency served 82 institutions with more than 500 concerts. In June, Bonnie Raitt sang for Bread & Roses at San Quentin Prison.

Ms. Farina gave up her own singing career to found Bread & Roses and to nurse it through years of hard times.

Yesterday, folk singer Pete Seeger reminisced on her efforts, quoting philosopher Eric Hoffer: "Creativity is nice, but maintenance is the essential art of civilization."

"Mimi was an inspiration to many people all over the world - far more than she ever understood," said Lana Severn, a close friend and agency associate for 18 years.

Ms. Farina's sister, folk singer Joan Baez, said she "filled empty souls with hope and song. She held the aged and forgotten in her light. She reminded prisoners that they were human beings."

Though devastated by her death, Baez said "knowing that her life's work will remain with us and flourish helps bring solace."

Baez was with Ms. Farina when she died, as were her mother, her older sister Pauline Bryan of Woodside, and her partner Paul Liberatore, an IJ columnist and feature writer.

"She gave us time to come together, to grieve and to say goodbye," Liberatore said. "I'm so joyful for her, knowing she is out of pain."

A Share the Care circle of 20 close friends helped support Ms. Farina through the last months of her illness. Her cousin, Skip Henderson of Greenbrae, said "she always drew a kind of charismatic affection. She was physically such a beautiful person, and even in her illness retained all that color and beauty."

Colleagues in the music and arts community were "incredibly generous," according to Yanehiro, who particularly noted Robin Williams, Boz Scaggs and Huey Lewis. Bonnie Raitt volunteered to give a benefit concert, she said. "Others said 'whatever she needs, I'll be there.' Huey Lewis was a leader of the pack."

Yanehiro, a longtime friend, instigated the Share the Care circle, based on a book by Cappy Capossela and Sheila Warnock of Sonoma. Friends formed committees to "make sure her needs were met," Yanehiro said. Others dealt with food, transportation, and treatment procedures.

"Melita Figueroa brought dinner every Tuesday," Yanehiro said. "Every Thursday, Zemy Junio brought Mimi's favorite foods."

Jeanne Bogardus, executive director of the Marin Arts Council and ex-colleague at Bread & Roses, managed a network of e-mails and health updates to old friends, "more than 100 people who consider themselves connected to her in a really deep way. It's been amazing."

Bogardus said Ms. Farina handled her illness "with enormous grace and style. (Her death) has broken my heart."

Mill Valley attorney Suzanne Badenhoop accompanied Ms. Farina to every major doctor's appointment.

"Mimi invited me into her life in a way that no one has ever done before," Badenhoop said. "And my life is richer because of that intimacy." Badenhoop said Ms. Farina "always took care of those taking care of her."

Severn will remember her as a "true natural beauty with extraordinary grace and generosity," a great sense of humor and "an appreciation for the absurdities of life."

Ms. Farina took an active role in her own care, using the best of mainline Western medicine and alternative treatment. Two months ago, she spent three weeks at a cancer clinic in Aeskulap, Switzerland.

Within a month of her return, she experienced a serious decline, and was in and out of sleep for most of the last two weeks.

A funeral for close family members will be held at her home. A public celebration of her life will be at 11 a.m. Aug. 7 at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.

Ms. Farina was born Margarita Mimi Baez in Palo Alto in 1945, the youngest of three daughters of a British mother and Mexican father. She was raised as a Quaker. The family followed her scientist father, Albert Baez of Greenbrae, to teaching assignments at Stanford University, University of the Redlands in Southern California, Baghdad, Boston and Paris, where he worked for UNESCO.

Ms. Farina studied dance, violin and piano in her younger years and later learned guitar, taking part in the folk revival of the early '60s.

At age 18, she married poet and novelist Richard Farina, and the two launched a dual career singing ballads. They recorded two albums for Vanguard: "Reflections in a Crystal Wind" and "Celebrations for a Gray Day."

Mimi's life with her husband, sister Joan and '60s icon Bob Dylan is documented in a recent book, "Positively Fourth Street" by David Majdu. The book credits the four young people with "(giving) rise to a modern-day bohemia and (creating) the enduring sound and style of the 1960s."

In a statement issued yesterday, Seeger recalled a highlight of Ms. Farina's life as a performer, "an extraordinary summer day in 1965 at Newport, when she and Richard had the audience of 6,000 on their feet in the midst of a downpour. I was backstage. Mimi and Richard and their guitar and dulcimer were protected, but the people were drenched, tearing off their shirts and dancing, totally enthralled by the music."

Richard Farina died in a motorcycle accident on Ms. Farina's 21st birthday.

Ms. Farina moved to San Francisco to live with an aunt and to think about becoming a dancer, her earliest dream. There, she hooked up with the satiric comedy troupe, The Committee, and became a member in 1967.

That same year, she was arrested at a peace march with her mother and sister Joan. They were held at Santa Rita Prison, an experience that Ms. Farina later said committed her to a life of activism.

In 1973, she accompanied her sister and B.B. King to a performance in Sing Sing, and was moved at the prisoners' response.

When Henderson asked her to sing at a Marin halfway house where he worked with mental patients, the idea for Bread & Roses was born. She saw it as a vehicle for healing people isolated from the world, and as a life-enhancing experience for performers.

In the ensuing years, her work was supported by an enormous array of performers including stars like Raitt, Seeger, Paul Winter, Odetta, Lily Tomlin, Carlos Santana, Judy Collins and Taj Mahal.

For her work, Ms. Farina received many awards, including "Woman of the Year" from the Bay Area Women in Music (1986), "Most Valuable Person Award" from the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (1993), "Woman Most Likely to be President" from the San Francisco League of Women Voters (1998), "Woman Entrepreneur of the Year" from the National Association of Women Business Owners (2000) and the 10th Annual Life Work Award from the Falkirk Cultural Center in San Rafael (2000).

In 1988, she was among the first inductees into the Marin Women's Hall of Fame.

Bread & Roses inspired a number of similar organizations across the country. David Lescht, director of Outside In in Santa Fe, said "Mimi was not only an inspiration but a mentor and shining light for us. I hope it gave her comfort to know that (her work continues to touch) many lives in difficult circumstances, as far away as the mountains and deserts of New Mexico."

In an IJ interview 18 months ago, Ms. Farina expressed gratitude for her 25 years with the agency. "I have gone to work every day with people whose job was to give to other people," she said. "I have been very lucky."

Ms. Farina returned at times to her own music, touring with Tom Jans and recording "Take Heart" with him in 1971, and recording a solo album, "Mimi Farina Solo," for Rounder Records in 1986.

Ms. Farina is survived by her parents, Albert Baez of Greenbrae and Joan Baez Sr. of Woodside, her sisters Joan Baez and Pauline Bryan of Woodside, and her partner, Paul Liberatore. She also leaves two nephews, Gabe Harris of Fairfax and Nick Marden of New York City, and a niece, Pearl Bryan of Woodside.

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