Called “A legend in the Midwest” by the Winnipeg Folk Festival; a performer “Who can sing, really sing” by Diane Sawyer of ABC-TV; and whose songs are “Damn good and so are you” by Pete Seeger; Charlie Maguire may be as much in the tradition of photographer Robert Capa, as his own musical roots in the Woody Guthrie tradition. Capa said, “If your pictures are not good enough, you are not close enough.” Guthrie described his songwriting as being like “A photographer without a camera.” Like Capa and Guthrie, Charlie Maguire uses the same close-up methods for his subjects when he writes songs about them.
Charlie has written songs about migrant labor as a VISTA volunteer, and the alienation of old age in his life-long work with elders. He has sailed the Great Lakes mirroring the job of a Third Mate on the bridges of huge grain and iron ore carriers well as an “ordinary seaman” on the slippery decks of a U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker. Both of these opportunities brought a fresh look at the conditions of modern working life on the U.S. Great Lakes. He has donned the uniform of the U.S. National Park Service ranger as the first and only “Singing Ranger” in the history of the service, training in the Grand Canyon and subsequently writing 24 award-winning songs about the Mississippi River. His work with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources as “Centennial Troubadour” was so compelling it raised the awareness of women actually gainfully employed in conservation as far back as 1903. That research and writing led in part to the construction of the Mary Gibbs Headwaters Visitor Center at Itasca State Park, honoring Ms. Gibbs, as the first woman park manager in the history of the United States.
Maguire is a native of upstate New York, and was mentored by Seeger, Lee Hays, and Marjorie Guthrie. His eyes and ears for a good story rest in his belief that songs containing real drama experienced close up, whether tragic or uplifting, not only inspire the listener but have a power to change — as well as comfort and heal people. Recently as an artist-in-residence contractor at the Minnesota Veterans Home, Charlie’s way of using music and photography to forge answers to social problems, recently led to an award-winning suicide prevention program for U.S. Veterans and returned military personnel. Since it’s inception there three years ago, “OSS: Operation Sight And Sound” has had a zero suicide rate for those veterans involved in the program that practices songwriting, and photography in service to the greater community.
Photo by Cheryl Walsh Bellville