Entering the field of topical songwriting after the activism of the 1960s, Holly Near promoted a variety of left-wing political causes with music that touched on folk, rock, and the musical theater, starting in the early 1970s. Beginning with her work against the Vietnam War, she turned to radical lesbian feminism before again expanding her concerns to include international issues.
A red-diaper baby of leftist parents, Near grew up on a ranch in the small Northern California town of Potter Valley. At age seven, she sang at a VFW talent show, attracting the attention of a voice teacher; at ten, she auditioned for Columbia Records. She attended UCLA for a year, 1967-68, then dropped out and moved to New York, where she studied singing and dance. Returning to Los Angeles, she was cast in her first film, Angel, Angel, Down We Go, released in the summer of 1969. She also made The Magic Garden Of Stanley Sweetheart, released in the spring of 1970. During the 1969-70 theater season, she appeared in the musical Hair on Broadway. She had two more film roles in 1971, in The Todd Killings and Minnie And Moskowitz, then in November joined Donald Sutherland and Jane Fonda's anti-war tour of Southeast Asia, later appearing in the documentary F.T.A.. Back in the U.S., she appeared in the film Slaughterhouse-Five (1972) and had parts in such TV series as The Partridge Family, All In The Family, and Mod Squad.
In 1972 and 1973, Near toured with Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden as part of the Indochina Peace Campaign, and started writing songs. She began performing regularly in Los Angeles and looking for a record contract, but ended up launching her own record label, Redwood Records, with her debut album Hang In There in 1973. That record and its follow-up, A Live Album (1974), along with constant touring, established her as an important new performer with a political bent. In the mid-1970s, she became identified with the emerging style of women's music, coming out as a lesbian at the Michigan Women's Music Festival in the summer of 1976 and beginning a three-and-a-half-year relationship with fellow performer Meg Christian. Her albums Imagine My Surprise! (1978) and Fire In The Rain (1981) strongly reflected her feminist concerns, but by 1982's Speed Of Light she had returned to a more broad-based approach. In 1983, she launched a duo with former Weavers singer Ronnie Gilbert, in 1984 she toured with Chilean group Inti-Illimani, and with Gilbert, Pete Seeger, and Arlo Guthrieas HARP. After recording seven albums of original, mostly politically oriented songs between 1973 and 1984, she changed her musical approach, releasing Don't Hold Back (1987), an album of love songs, Sky Dances (1989), an album of covers, and Singer In The Storm (1990), a live album. She devoted much of her time to political activity, frequently performed benefits for political causes, and traveled to such war-torn countries as Nicaragua and El Salvador during this period. She published her autobiography, Fire In The Rain ... Singer In The Storm, in 1990, then toured with an autobiographical stage show based on the book. Redwood ran into financial difficulties in the mid-1990s and was forced to go out of business. But Near continued to perform and record, and returned to occasional acting roles as well. The year 2000 saw the release of the compilation Simply Love: The Women's Music Collection and the full-length release titled Edge. Additional thematically arranged compilations followed in 2002: Early Warnings, And Still We Sing: The Outspoken Collection, and Crushed! The Love Song Collection. In 2003, Near teamed up with Cris Williamson on the duo album Cris & Holly. Show Up, Near’s first solo album in six years, was released in 2006. We Came to Sing!, on which she was joined by emma’s revolution in a collection some of her old favorites, followed in 2009. ~ William Ruhlmann