The Kossoy Sisters

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Almost half a century after putting out an album of Appalachian folksongs, Ellen Kossoy again encountered the music of her youth in a most unlikely way. Sitting in a movie theater with scenes from O Brother,…
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Almost half a century after putting out an album of Appalachian folksongs, Ellen Kossoy again encountered the music of her youth in a most unlikely way. Sitting in a movie theater with scenes from O Brother, Where Art Thou? flickering across the screen, she hadn't expected to hear the voices of anyone she knew personally. Imagine her surprise when she heard her own voice, along with that of her twin sister, Irene Kossoy, come floating through the air. "I'll Fly Away," one of the songs the Kossoy Sisters had recorded during the 1950s for their Tradition Records' album Bowling Green, had been picked for inclusion in the film made by the Coen Brothers. Unfortunately, their version of the song, with Erik Darling as their accompanist, is not on the O Brother, Where Art Thou? CD. Instead, Gillian Welch and Alison Krauss cover "I'll Fly Away." Ethan Coen, who directed the movie, happened to receive the Kossoy Sisters' only album as a gift. Immediately smitten by their sound, he made the decision to include them in his film. Thanks to the sisters' ancient contract with Tradition, however, they didn't receive the high royalty rates that accompany a lot of today's film and music deals.

Natives of New York City, the sisters were first exposed to folk music at summer camp. Later they fell in with the Greenwich Village crowd. They made the acquaintance of musicians Ralph Rinzler, John Cohen, and others in Washington Square Park, and even met Woody Guthrie after they appeared in Bound for Glory. Their musician buddies recommended and lent numerous folk albums to encourage the 17-year-old budding entertainers. By 1959, they performed on the stage of the Newport Folk Festival. After such a promising start on their musical career, however, the Kossoy Sisters ended up following a different life path. Each of them married, and Ellen Kossoy relocated with her husband to St. Louis, while Irene Kossoy kept her hand in the business for a short while by performing with spouse Tony Saletan. More than four decades later, the sisters are together again. At a time when their music is being rediscovered, Irene Kossoy is a divorcee and her sister is a widow, and the women inhabit opposite sides of a twin house.