Frank Christian, 1952-2012

We were shocked and saddened to learn that Frank Christian, who wrote and played music for our film, passed away on Christmas Eve.

We came to Frank through a friend who was taking guitar lessons from him. We needed someone to play some riffs on “1913 Massacre,” which Frank did, beautifully, making variations on his guitar even during our first conversation about the project. Frank Christian and Odetta We also knew there was something special about a Finnish immigrant’s song called “Remembrance” that Oren Tikkanen plays in the film, and we were wondering if there was a connection — some musical connection — between Woody’s song and this sad old Finnish tune. Frank was skeptical at first. But he quickly found or, better, made a connection.

It was one of those master strokes. That tune, which in the editing process we came to refer to simply as “Frank’s Original Riff,” guided our telling of the Calumet story. In a single session, Frank produced five variations of his original riff. Here’s one of them.


In the end, Frank didn’t just play and score some music for us; he told the story in his own way, with his guitar, and made himself into one of the film’s primary narrators.

There was a memorial service for Frank yesterday in New Jersey.There’s a book of memories, where people are posting condolence messages. You can find various other remembrances for Frank online: an obituary in the Star Ledger; a short write up on the FolkCityAtFifty blog; another over at the Tennessean. Frank even has a Wikipedia entry now.

Another way to remember Frank — maybe the best way — is just to listen to him play. Here’s Frank playing a variation on “Remembrance.”


Thanks for sharing your gifts with us, Frank. Peace.

3 thoughts on “Frank Christian, 1952-2012

  1. Paul

    The man was quite simply the greatest folk/jazz guitarist of Greenwich Village.
    He was a tremendous songwriter,singer,sideman,frontman and storyteller.
    It was an honor to spend time with him in places like Folk City,the Speak Easy,the Cedar Tavern,11th Street Bar and the Ear Inn. He was one of a kind in both his music and his stories.
    Three outstanding albums,tours with Nancy Griffith,he won the Bob Dylan Imitator’s contest a few times,played with the Song Project,Tom Intondi,Jack Hardy,Odetta……
    We will not see his like again!

  2. " class="url" rel="ugc external nofollow">Susan Sourby


    I think of you so often. You were a great teacher and artist. I think of you everyday. Whenever I am in a difficult situation-which seems to be a story of my life-I think to myself “How would Frank look at this situation?” You looked at music from so many different angles that somehow that spirit seeped into all elements of my life, not just music.

    Miss you. If there is a heaven, I hope that you and my brother Charles and BB King are having a good time.

    Susan Sourby

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