Rusty McNeil, the Other Half of Famed Folk-Singing Duo Died at 81
01/11/2011

Rusty McNeil succumbed to death due to complications of stroke. The folk-music historian was 81.Born Joan Betty Wilmsmeier, Rusty (a name everyone tagged her because of her red hair) and her husband Keith McNeil made news when they started touring the country on a converted school bus.

Online PR News – 11-January-2011 – – Rusty McNeil succumbed to death due to complications of stroke. The folk-music historian was 81.

Born Joan Betty Wilmsmeier, Rusty (a name everyone tagged her because of her red hair) and her husband Keith McNeil made news when they started touring the country on a converted school bus. Dubbed as the ‘Amazing Grace’, the bus became their ‘house on wheels’ together with their children and dogs for a span of 15 years.

The couple traced the country to teach American history through Free Online Music or folk music. According to Keith and Rusty’s website, the folk singers taught courses on history and American pop culture in various universities, state colleges, and community colleges. They continuously researched and performed folksongs as they traveled around the US and Canada.

Rusty, then a UCLA student, met Keith in 1949 when she spent her winter break at a ski lodge in Yosemite National Park. Keith McNeil was then a Stanford University student.
They both were employees of the ski lodge.

The couple had five children - Michael, David, Mary, Jennifer, and Sarah – and resided in Riverside, California. Rusty and Keith became part of the Riverside Folk Song Society and had then realized the effectiveness of music as a teaching tool when they became active in the civil rights movement.

It was in 1966 when Rusty and Keith decided to take full time teaching of history through folk songs. Being well versed in playing musical instruments such as guitar, autoharp and many other rhythm instruments, the couple took this advantage in carrying out their goals of teaching American history to the younger generation.

After getting a contract with the Columbia Artists Community Division, the McNeil family journeyed across every state in the country and in Canada for the 550 community concerts they had for 15 long years.

In 1983, the McNeils started producing CD volumes of American History through folk songs. These CDs contained historical narration before every song in the track list. And in 1987, the couple brought groups of Americans to England, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, France, Spain, and Zimbabwe to discover the traditional music and dance of these countries.

Rusty and Keith published the songbooks Colonial & Revolution, Civil War, Moving West, and California – all of which contained historical notes. Their recordings of songs and narration include American History Through Folksong, American Religious Songs, and California History Through Folksong – totaling to 22 CDs.

Rusty had a stroke in early 2009. Complications have caused Rusty’s passing according to her son, David, in an interview with The Riverside Press-Enterprise. She died in her Riverside home on December 15, 2010.

Rusty’s son told that she breathed her last while holding Keith’s hand. The famed folk-singing duo was supposed to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary. Rusty and Keith had always been a team. They spent their celebrated life together with their five children, eight grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

Rusty McNeil will always be remembered not just as a folk singer but as an influential teacher. Rusty was an individual who influenced the public through her own music, taking responsibilities of being a wife and a mother, all at the same time.

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