In Memoriam: Uncle Ruthie Buell

Uncle Ruthie Buell

by Dave Kinnoin

Uncle Ruthie Buell and I were pals. We went out to movies and meals, cooked each other lunch, fed the ducks at the park, and most gloriously, exchanged songs at her piano. I sang one for every ten by her—she was hard to stop once she got going, and I did not want her to stop!

She was a brilliant songwriter, poet, and performer. She was delightfully un-humble. I mean, uh, confident. Oh my, she was hilarious and smart and insightful and irreverent. She held us spellbound. She was a masterful storyteller whether at the dinner table or on the stage. To say she was candid is an understatement—she told it exactly like it was. She had phenomenal energy, passion, and drive. Her eyes sparkled. Her heart was true. Her laughter was magical. I kinda had a crush on her.

She adored her daughter Irene and sons Tony and Danny. She was devoted to her schoolchildren. She was a whirlwind of love and creativity and resourcefulness and wit. I can close my eyes and see her impish grin and recall the sometimes outlandish (in the most wonderful ways) things she did and said. She imitated no one—she was 100 percent Ruthie all the time. Oh, I’m so sad she had to go.

Uncle Ruthie sings “My Brother” at the 2010 CMN Conference.

Halfway Down the Stairs With Uncle Ruthie

by Jacki Breger

Ruthie did way more than produce an album or two. For longer than I can remember (and that’s a very long time), she hosted a radio show for kids called Halfway Down the Stairs. It was an exceptionally wonderful program. I think it was an hour for a long time, and then the station cut it back to a half-hour. She read books to young children, told stories related to the topic of the day, and sang songs. She dealt with important issues way before it was politically correct to do so. She occasionally had guests as well. Plus, she did a three-hour Christmas Day program, with stories and songs appropriate to the day and season. I was pleased to be a guest on one of those programs, along with Fred Sokolow (one of the absolute best musicians in SoCal—he frequently backed up Ruthie, and me too). It was one of the highlights of my career. Ruthie also participated in an annual “Hanukah at Home” concert for many years, along with Marcia Berman, Dan Crow, and some other SoCal children’s musicians. They also released an album of the songs that were the core of the show.

The radio show was her major contribution to the world of music for children and families and the primary reason she was honored with the Magic Penny Award. Some of you may remember that at her award ceremony, one of the participants was a young adult who had been raised on her program and wanted to be part of the tribute.

She could be pretty bawdy. Dave Kinnoin and I went to a performance of her adult material one time and got quite a taste. But she was the absolute opposite in her work with children—calm, low-key, genuine, and wonderful.

Read Uncle Ruthie’s Magic Penny interview in the Fall 2010 issue of Pass It On!