Celebrated folk singer Rusty McNeil passes away at her Riverside home

Rusty (left) and husband Keith McNeil play together.
Rusty (left) and husband Keith McNeil play together.
Courtesy of McNeil Music Inc.

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Celebrated music historian and folksinger Rusty McNeil has died at her home in Riverside of complications from a stroke. The 81-year-old musician enjoyed a long career performing and teaching traditional American folk songs across the globe.

With her shock of red hair, Joan McNeil earned the nickname Rusty, a title she kept when she started performing traditional American folk music 50 years ago with her husband Keith. The couple joined the Riverside Folk Song Society and organized the Young People's Folk Song Society. Their specialty was resurrecting lost or seldom-played songs from the California Gold Rush, the Civil War and other key periods of American history.

Rusty and Keith McNeil frequently toured the United States in a converted antique school bus with their five children. The McNeils also played concerts and taught workshops in Europe and Japan. The couple recorded scores of CDs and instructional books – many of which are still available through a website the McNeils ran from their Riverside home.