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Legendary folk singer Norma Waterson dies at 82

The news was shared by her daughter, fellow folk singer Eliza Carthy

By Joe Goggins

Norma Waterson at the Royal Festival Hall in London, 2002
Waterson on stage at the Royal Festival Hall. (Photo: Martin Stephens/Alamy)

The legendary British folk singer Norma Waterson has died at the age of 82.

The news was broken on Monday morning (January 31) by Waterson‘s daughter, Eliza Carthy, who is also a folk musician. No cause of death was given, but in a recent attempt to raise funds for her family, Carthy revealed that Waterson had been admitted to hospital, suffering from pneumonia. 

“Not much to say about such monumental sadness, but mam passed away yesterday afternoon, January 30th 2022,” said Carthy in a post to her Facebook page. “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.”

Carthy concluded the post with “we love you Mam. Going to bring you home as soon as we can,” before quoting lyrics from the traditional Victorian parlour song, ‘Love’s Old Sweet Song’. She also included the link to the aforementioned fundraiser, with further donations going to support Carthy and her father, Martin Carthy, who like his late wife is a folk musician. 

“Right now the Carthy family, as many others, is struggling to survive the pandemic,” reads Carthy’s message on the fundraising page on Waterson had been unable to tour for a number of years. “During the pandemic Eliza recorded a new album. Once touring resumes there will be that extra income stream plus the small income derived from the limited releases of the Waterson Family Archive. Until then the family is hard-pressed, and any donations you can make will be greatly appreciated.”

You can donate to the fundraiser here. The passing of Waterson, who was 82, led to an outpouring of tributes on social media from the likes of Billy Bragg, who said, “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.”

Waterson was born in Hull in 1939. Local journalist Angus Young shared footage of her singing with her family last summer, at the unveiling of a plaque at the former home of Lal, their matriarch.

Meanwhile, the retired singer Chris Thorpe-Tracey, who recorded under the name Chris T-T, shared his own tribute to Waterson. “Norma Waterson was one of the greatest folk artists we’ve had,” he wrote on Twitter. “A beacon, someone who shaped our music, who sang us what we needed to hear. Love and condolences to the Waterson/Carthy family, as well as the folk community who will miss her hugely.”

Waterson was nominated for the Mercury Prize in 1996, for her self-titled debut album. She released her final album, ‘Anchor’, in 2018.