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Norma Waterson of English folk royalty has died at 82

Norma Waterson receives the Lifetime Achievement award at the BBC Folk Awards at Royal Albert Hall on April 27, 2016, in London.
Christie Goodwin
Redferns/Getty Images
Norma Waterson receives the Lifetime Achievement award at the BBC Folk Awards at Royal Albert Hall on April 27, 2016, in London.

With earthy and arresting harmonies, The Watersons from Hull – originally Norma Waterson and her siblings, Lal and Mike Waterson and their cousin John — revived old English folk songs beginning in the 1960s. "The Good Old Way," "Hal-An-Tow," "Here We Come A-Wassailing" among them.

Norma Waterson died Sunday at age 82. Her sister Lal died in 1998. Her brother Michael died in 2011.

Norma Waterson was married to the renowned singer and musician Martin Carthy, who also performed with The Watersons, as well as Steeleye Span.

Waterson's daughter, singer and fiddler Eliza Carthy, announced her mother's death on her Facebook page: "Hello all. Not much to say about such monumental sadness, but mam passed away yesterday afternoon, January 30th 2022."

When I interviewed Norma Waterson for a profile of Eliza Carthy in 2001, she explained that the family tree was rooted in music.

"I had an uncle, Harry, who played a musical saw and a one-string fiddle. I had an uncle, Sam, who'd stepdance on the breadboard. I had an uncle, Ronny, who was lead cornet player in the silent cinema — you know, the movies. My grandmother sang," Waterson said. "And so I suppose it was, you know, just all getting together, making music of some sort. In the genes."

COVID-19 was devastating to the Waterson/Carthy finances, Carthy said in an online fundraiser. And she noted that Waterson had been unable to perform for years because of illness, including pneumonia.

In her Facebook post, Carthy thanked the many who responded.

"Thinking of everyone who has supported and donated and just been there for us the last few weeks, the last few years, and through all of her triumphs and trials.

"Our only hope is that she is with Lal and Mike and her mum and dad now, being held and welcomed and finally without pain."

Among those paying tribute, singer-songwriter Billy Bragg writes: "Very sorry to hear that Norma Waterson, the last of the singing Watersons from Hull, has passed away. She started out as a skiffler and went on to become one of the defining voices of English traditional music. My thoughts are with Martin and Eliza and the rest of the family."

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Elizabeth Blair is a Peabody Award-winning senior producer/reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.