Posted by: Kath Usitalo | November 9, 2009

Lee Murdock: A Great Lakes Balladeer


The ore carrier Saginaw carries on a tradition worth singing about

Musician, historian, continental glaciologist. Folk-singer Lee Murdock, geology degree in one hand and guitar in the other, preserves and performs songs of the Great Lakes—the bodies of water created by the glaciers he studied in college.

He didn’t plan the merger of his interests. A singer of blues and pop music in the 1970’s, Lee, a native of the Chicago area says, “I started to develop more than just a passing interest in folk music from the region, especially by sailors on the Great Lakes about the Great Lakes.” Now, he realizes, “There’s a resonance to my music. I was on a path all along.”

Lee writes original tunes and has found valuable, historical material in archives at the University of Michigan. He arranges Great Lakes ballads, sea chanteys and work songs dating to the 1800’s to appeal to contemporary audiences, while maintaining the integrity of the music. Sometimes he discovers just the words and stories, and writes melodies to fit.


Lee Murdock at Whitefish Point (provided photo)

“My mission is to find those songs that might interest the general public…to make people aware of the Great Lakes heritage by presenting the songs in the best way I know.”

With over a dozen recordings and about 150 concerts a year Lee knows there’s an audience—of all ages—appreciative of the region’s maritime history.

We discovered Lee’s recordings many years ago at the Inland Seas Maritime Museum in Vermilion, Ohio. The kids were quite young, but enjoyed the tunes on the drive home; Paige chose May Day as her favorite, and Graham said that Lee’s pairing of Red Iron Ore/Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald was, in his view, “more haunting and eerie than the other guy’s version.” The other guy, of course, is Canadian folksinger Gordon Lightfoot, whose ballad about the freighter lost in Lake Superior off Whitefish Point is probably the most famous song about the Great Lakes.

Check out Lee Murdock’s website to listen to see his performance schedule, order music online or see where you can buy it, and learn more about the Great Lakes through his songs.



  1. […] The tale of the ill-fated Christmas Ship (or Christmas Tree Ship) has been told in books and song, including interpretations by Michigan’s own writer and musician Carl Behrend and Great Lakes balladeer Lee Murdock. […]

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