Musician and textile designer Sue Draheim, 63, died on April 11 at her home in Berea, Kentucky. The Oakland, California, native had a long and varied musical career, from the Bay Area folk revival to the traditional music scene of the United Kingdom and continental Europe, and from old-time string band and traditional Irish music to Celtic-rock and Gilbert and Sullivan.
In the late 1960s, Draheim, Jim Bamford, and Mac Benford formed Dr. Humbead’s New Tranquility String Band and Medicine Show, which shared a billing at the eleventh Berkeley Folk Festival with Howlin’ Wolf and John Fahey. She delved into Irish music as a member of the Gruneog Ceilidh Band, which led her in 1970 to the British Isles. She toured Europe for five years as a member of The John Renbourn Group, with whom she appeared on the album A Maid in Bedlam. While on that side of the Atlantic she also played on Richard Thompson’s Henry the Human Fly, and John Martyn’s Solid Air.
In 1976, back in California, Draheim co-founded the Any Old Time String Band with Kate Brislin, Suzy Thompson, Valerie Mindel, and Genny Haley. The influential band recorded two albums on the Arhoolie label, playing a mixture of old-time, Cajun, blues, and other musical styles, and sharing stages with, among others, Bill Monroe, Doc Watson, the New Lost City Ramblers, and Pete Seeger.
Over the next decades, Sue Draheim was a member of several orchestras, the Gilbert and Sullivan troupe The Lamplighters, and the Western Opera Theatre. From 1999 to 2001, she played in the Celtic folk band Golden Bough, and then spent two years touring and recording with the Celtic rock band Tempest.
Since 2011, Draheim and her partner Wayde Blair had lived in Berea, Kentucky. There, in addition to pursuing her career as a textile and surface pattern designer, she played contra dance music with Sea Change, a band that also included Elise Melrood, Liza Di Savino, and Nathan Wilson. Over the course of her career, Sue Draheim had appeared on more than 30 albums. John Renbourn called her “one of the best musicians I have ever met,” and once described the experience of hearing her playing with a prominent classical orchestra. “The enjoyment of listening to Mahler,” he said, “was enhanced by the thought that she could easily slip into the Skillet Lickers.”