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Hank Cramer Wins Award

Hank Cramer Winthrop folksinger Hank Cramer's many contributions to teaching history through song and story were recognized recently when he received the14th annual Humanities Washington Award -- a $1,000 gift to the charity of his choice.

"He has a magical way of educating people about history," said Julie Ziegler, executive director of the private, non-profit organization. "Engaging speakers like Hank draw people in," she said, adding that he enchants audiences. Ziegler made her remarks July 22 at an awards luncheon at Sun Mountain Lodge.

Cramer has for many years taught history through stories about, and performances of, sea shanties, songs of the western trails, mining, railroad and soldiers' songs. He is giving his award to the Grays Harbor Historical Seaport Authority in Aberdeen, where he has been a shantyman aboard the tall ship Lady Washington, a full-scale replica of the first American ship to make landfall on the west coast of North American in 1788. She also was the first American vessel to visit Honolulu, Hong Kong and Japan.

Les Bolton, the seaport authority's executive director, said the $1,000 donation will be used as a challenge grant to raise money needed to buy new costumes for the ship's crew. "I've been working on tall ships for thirty years. I've heard a lot of people sing sea shanties," Bolton said. Where others might come aboard and just sing through these sailors' work songs, Bolton said Cramer knew the lyrics, the story behind the songs and how they should be sung from the very first time he boarded the ship. "The shantyman was a sort of communication link between the crew and the master of the vessel," said Bolton. His cadence told the captain where the crew was within the task at hand -- hauling sail, for example."I can't think of a person who deserves more recognition." 

Bolton also cited the sea shanty music camps that Cramer created, which have drawn together musicians and others from throughout the region and created a way to help people understand the songs. "Hank is a shantyman but he is so much more than that; he's a collaborator... He brings charisma to the humanities."

Clancy Pool, from the St.John Public Library branch of the Whitman County Library system, sent a statement read by Bridget Piper, a Humanities Washington trustee. "It is really because of him [Cramer] that we began offering humanities programing in all 14 of our branches," Pool said. She related how she received a phone call from Cramer, who wanted to come to Whitman County. "I explained that we are very rural, with a tiny budget and branches smaller than my living room." The very kind of place he wanted to perform, said Cramer. So in March 2008 a concert was scheduled.

"Hank was a hit," Pool said. "When you offer quality programs like Hank Cramer in tiny towns, everybody comes. The school walks the students down, the senior home brings the residents and the grocery store puts a 'closed for the concert' sign on the door. After the music stops, people ask how they can help us do it again." She went on to describe the legacy of continuing library programs and increased donations inspired by that first event.

David Freece, director of the Cowlitz County Historical Museum and a Humanities Washington trustee, also lauded Cramer for singing crowd-pleasing songs and telling stories of the western trails when he participated in the celebration  of an historic stagecoach route in Kelso, Wash. 

Cramer thanked his many friends and family in the room and Humanities Washington for the “humbling honor” of the award. He then performed several songs in his rich bass-baritone voice. Wearing first his shantyman’s cap and then a cowboy hat, he told the stories behind the songs and, as always, got the audience to participate. In his view, Cramer said, passing songs and stories from generation to generation is “what the humanities is all about.”

Cramer credits his vocal training to the man in charge of the boys' choirs at the Catholic schools he attended in New York as a child. He taught himself to play the guitar and carried that instrument on assignments during his 14 years of active duty with the U.S. Army. A former paratrooper and Green Beret, Cramer served in the 1st Special Forces Group stationed at Fort Lewis. His dad, the first American soldier to die in Vietnam, was a Green Beret with the same unit.

When he left active duty and started devoting more time to music, he started playing festivals and traveling the country. One of those gigs brought him to Sun Mountain Lodge, where he met and later married Kit McLean, then manager of horse operations for the resort and a fourth-generation Methow Valley resident. He's had a Winthrop address ever since,  although a recent job opportunity has taken the Cramers to the west side of the Cascade mountains. Hank is currently human services manager for the Washington Military Department's Emergency Management Division. Kit, meanwhile, is overseeing numerous west side youth camp horse programs supplied with Claude Miller stock.

As for the award winning folksinger, he continues to ramble the region like the soldiers, sailors and cowboys who populate his music. To find out where he's appearing next go to