THE DALTON BROTHERS perform at the October 23rd Susquehanna Folk Coffeehouse

Back in the 1960s there was a news article in the New York Times about a family who played and performed folk music. “Family Blossoms into a Folk Music Group” I believe was the title of the article. That family was mine, the DALTON FAMILY SINGERS. When I was a young girl, and well into my teens, my family would pack our station wagon with an assortment of instruments (bass, guitar, banjo, hammered and lap dulcimers, autoharp, and fiddle) and head off to gigs in New York or in New England where we summered. Spending so much time around folk music as I was growing up really instilled a love of the music in me. It’s this love of folk music that drew me to the Susquehanna Folk Music Society first as a volunteer, than as a paid staff. Through the efforts of so many people (including SFMS founders John and Fiona Patterson and many volunteers) we have established a wonderful folk music society that serves the Harrisburg/York region by bringing in exceptional musicians, providing local musicians opportunities to play, introducing local school children to folk culture, and organizing international dance events. For me, it all began with those early family experiences.

A Chance to Hear Members of the Dalton Family Singers And now our folk community will get a chance to hear those early Dalton family songs when three of my brothers Jeff (from Michigan), Jerry (from PA) and Jon (from NJ) will perform as part of the Susquehanna Folk Coffeehouse on October 23rd held from 7-10 pm. The coffeehouse will occur at the Fort Hunter Barn located at 5300 N Front Street, Harrisburg, PA. Additional information can be found at

The Early Dalton Family Singers  My father Albert Dalton, now a retired music teacher, first got the idea of performing as a musical family from the Von Trapp Family Singers who were the inspiration for “The Sound of Music”. In fact, he even sent a letter to Maria Von Trapp telling her of his plan, and received an encouraging letter in return! “I always thought it would be nice if my family could do that” he recently said to me “but it never materialized until we heard some really good music at the Fox Hollow Folk Festival in New York”. We traveled to this wonderful festival every year to hear other musicians and to learn new songs. At the time my family was spending our summers in Charlestown, R.I. and one of our first (and much loved) places to play was the Umbrella Factory; a somewhat bohemian group of shops that featured the work of local craftspeople. My parents did the “heavy lifting” in those early years, but my brothers and I played the guitar and my youngest brother played the tambourine. Of course, as everyone grew older our music improved. We had a lot of fun playing impromptu concerts in town. I remember one time that my dad, always the promoter, decorated our car with announcements and with his bullhorn in hand drove up and down the streets of Charlestown shouting about a concert we were to play that evening on the lawn of the town library! As the Executive Director of Susquehanna Folk, I spend hours doing promotional work for upcoming events. I think some of the methods I use are reminiscent of my dad’s tireless (an creative!) efforts from so many years ago. We both believe that if you want something to be successful, you have to work like the dickens to make it happen!

 The Group’s Repertoire Our family’s repertoire included songs from dad’s childhood, and songs we learned at festivals and from records. Dad chose the songs. He was partial to old-time music, gospels and the music of folk singers like Ed Tricket, Gordon Bok, Bruce Phillips, Joe Hickerson and Bill Staines. After awhile we moved from Rhode Island to Maine for the summer months and we did quite a bit of playing at places like the Belfast Broiler Festival and at an old 17th Century Meeting House in South Solon. We were once featured on a hour long studio-produces PBS special aired throughout Maine.

Al and Marcia Dalton on Their Own As my siblings and I got older, my parents found themselves performing alone more and more. One of the more interesting things they did as a duo was to give a series of concerts in the former Soviet Union as part of a peace mission. They played for a large crowd in Gorky Park and later in Odessa where they met a young man who played the banjo and has learned a huge collection of American songs including “Will the Circle be Unbroken” and “Copper Kettle”. Mom and Dad also taught sessions on American Folk Music at Elder Hostels for nearly 20 years.

Recording and performing Old Dalton Family Favorites Several years ago my brother Jerry began collecting old Dalton Family songs. My three brothers made a recording of some of our favorites. ( ) While they rarely play together, they will travel from three different states to play at the Susquehanna Folk Coffeehouse. Although it will just be a short set, it’s sure to be a lively group of folk music favorites popular in the 60s and 70s. For me, it will bring back fond memories of playing and sharing really special music. People have been asking me if I will be performing too. Probably not. These days, I’ve been concentrating on the presenting side of keeping folk music alive. Thank heavens there are musicians like my brothers who are keeping the performing side going!

By Jess Dalton Hayden, SFMS Executive Director


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Shannon
    Apr 16, 2011 @ 07:33:22

    Hello, I believe Jess Dalton Hayden who wrote this article may have been my preschool/kindergarten teacher a number of years ago. I have been searching for her, as she had influenced me and taught me the joy of music as a child. This has been a constant throughout my life. I play guitar and am learning to play banjo, and my children all sing and play instruments. I would just like to let her know how important she was in this child’s life. Thank you


    • folkmama
      Jul 21, 2011 @ 03:21:50

      Shannon, Well, that’s very nice! I did teach kindergarten, at Fishing Creek, Highland and Washington Heights. Did you go to any of those schools? I used to love to get out my guitar. I think it calmed everyone down and got us working together as a group. It is great to know that I encouraged you to begin a life-long relationship with music. It’s a gerat way to spend time, alone or with others. I have two children myself and I made sure that they played music too. It’s amazing how many doors it has opened for them! Thanks so much for writing and write again if you like.
      Jess Dalton Hayden


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