Obituary: Maurice 'Maury' Bernstein, folk music expert, radio host

Maurice “Maury” Bernstein, 74, was a folk music expert.

With a pas­sion for folk mu­sic and fin­gers that danced on an ac­cor­di­on, Mau­ry Bern­stein brought small cor­ners of the world to life in the coffeehouses and streets of Minneapolis.

He wrote in 1966 that folk mu­sic, in gen­er­al, “is nei­ther the best nor the worst mu­sic in the world … It is, how­ever, the most varied. That is why I have grown to love it.”

That var­i­a­tion was a theme in Bern­stein’s life, as he be­came an ec­cen­tric fix­ture, first in Dinkytown, then the Cedar-Riverside neigh­bor­hood near the University of Minnesota’s West Bank cam­pus.

He spent stints teach­ing, host­ing a National Public Radio program called “Folk Music and Bern­stein,” host­ing “The Jew­ish Program” fea­tur­ing news and com­men­tar­y on vari­ous ra­di­o sta­tions, and play­ing mu­sic at wed­dings, fu­ner­als, local bars, coffeehouses and oth­er ven­ues. Bern­stein or­gan­ized the Snoose Boulevard Festival cele­brat­ing Scan­di­na­vian her­it­age in the Cedar-Riverside com­muni­ty in the 1970s.

Bern­stein died Nov. 9 af­ter liv­ing for years with Parkinson’s dis­ease. He was 74.

Born into a musi­cal fam­i­ly that came to Minnesota from New York when Bern­stein was an in­fant, Bern­stein be­gan play­ing ac­cor­di­on at age 10 and quick­ly fell in love with folk mu­sic.

“I think some­thing stirred in his heart when he start­ed play­ing the ac­cor­di­on,” said longtime friend Jean Berg­lund.

He taught eth­no­mu­si­col­o­gy and Brit­ish and American folk mu­sic at the University of Minnesota in the early 1980s, ac­cord­ing to a Sew­ard Pro­file sto­ry about him in 2005. He played and sang nu­mer­ous styles of folk mu­sic, in­clud­ing I­tal­ian, French, Rus­sian, Scan­di­na­vian, Brit­ish and Aus­tral­i­an, the sto­ry said.

In a 1966 guest col­umn for the Minneapolis Tribune, he was care­ful to de­fine folk mu­sic as the mu­sic of grand­fathers, not the popu­lar songs of Peter, Paul and Mary or Bob Dy­lan.

Friends say he was a soft-spok­en, life­long bach­elor and learn­er who was pas­sion­ate about what­ever he did.

“The musi­cians who knew him, I think they were ag­gra­vat­ed by him be­cause he was so in­sist­ent on doing things right,” said Anne-Charlotte Har­vey, a sing­er who re­cord­ed and per­formed mu­sic about the Scan­di­na­vian im­mi­grant ex­peri­ence with Bern­stein. “He nev­er said, ‘We’ve had en­ough re­hears­al. I’ve gotta go home to my fam­i­ly.’ He was in­ex­haust­ible.”

He was also pas­sion­ate about jus­tice and so­cial caus­es, friends said, and found help for oth­er musi­cians who were down on their luck.

Mu­si­cian Papa John Kol­stad re­called bump­ing into Bern­stein of­ten on neigh­bor­hood sidewalks. He would greet friends and ac­quaint­an­ces not by say­ing hel­lo, but in­stead by sim­ply shar­ing news or facts he had dis­cov­ered, start­ing the con­ver­sa­tion with “Did you know …”

Bern­stein was “a walk­ing en­cy­clo­pe­di­a of all kinds of folk mu­sic,” Kol­stad said, add­ing that when Bern­stein per­formed, “he had this vast, vast rep­er­toire of songs. You nev­er knew what you were going to hear from Mau­ry.”

Friends said Bern­stein could put a band to­gether to fit any oc­ca­sion.

“He was a fer­vent be­liev­er in the pow­er of mu­sic to touch peo­ple, a fer­vent be­liev­er in jus­tice and fair­ness,” Har­vey said. “He made a last­ing im­pres­sion on all kinds of peo­ple.”

Bern­stein is sur­vived by his sis­ter, Melody “Mer­riam” Bern­stein. Services have been held.

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