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Keeping the music of Phil Ochs alive

After Sonny Ochs lost her brother, she worried his music would be lost, too.

Phil Ochs was 35 when he committed suicide in 1976. A mainstay in the folk music scene, in his short life, he wrote more than 100 songs and recorded eight albums.

Some of his songs are absolutely stunning, Sonny said recently from her home in Middleburgh.

Not wanting to see those songs fall silent, Sonny embraced the idea a friend of Phil's pitched to have a Phil Ochs Song Night. In 1983, the first song night was held in Greenwich Village. It was a testament to Ochs' popularity that when Sonny left around midnight, there was still a line of musicians waiting for a chance to perform one of Ochs' songs.

Encouraged by the overwhelming response, Sonny and others decided to turn Phil Ochs Song Night into an annual event. For the past few years, it's been held at The Linda, WAMC's performing arts studio on Central Avenue in Albany. This year's Phil Ochs Song Night is Saturday, May 9, at 8 p.m. at the Linda.

Although Sonny and others share some stories about Phil during the event, she stressed that it's not really meant as a memorial or tribute to her brother. The focus, she said, is on the music.

"He died too soon," she said. "I don't want to see the music die, too."

There are a core group of musicians who have helped Sonny with that goal since Phil Ochs Song Night was launched. Regular participants include Reggie and Kim Harris, fellow Middleburgh residents who told Sonny years ago that they'd love to take part in a song night.

She asked them which Phil song they'd want to perform.

"They said, 'We don't know any,'" she said with a laugh. "They grew up on Motown."

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