Sonia May Malkine, née Niel, 90, of Shady, passed away peacefully on May 31, 2014.
Born of Breton ancestry in Paris, France, on October 7, 1923, Sonia spent her first 15 years in St. Tropez, on the Mediterranean coast. She then returned to Paris where her last year of school ended on the same day as the German invasion in 1940 — she never learned what grades she earned on her final exams.
At 18, she was forced to flee occupied Paris to Toulouse under cover of night, having refused to assist in the distribution of anti-Allied literature by her employer. She became an agent of the Resistance group called the Maquis (the F.F.I., or the French Forces of the Interior) through contacts she made in Perigord, in the southwest of the country. She was a Franc Tireur (irregular) in the 4th Regiment of the F.T.P.F. (Franc Tireurs et Partisans Français) and worked in a group that was active in the Dordogne region. From 1942 until the liberation of Europe in 1945, she served as a liaison agent in the 15th Division of the Guerrilleros of Spain. Her functions included smuggling arms, explosives, orders, messages, and money. Often invited to speak in recent years, she shared many stories of the innumerable close calls she experienced during that time.
Sonia came to the United States in 1948 with her husband, Georges A. Malkine, and two infant children. They lived for a few years in Brooklyn, where two more children were born, then came to Woodstock to visit an old friend of her mother’s, Stella Ballantine. As many others have done before and since, they came, they loved, they stayed.
Sonia had a natural singing voice of remarkable purity, and in the 1960s launched a lifelong career as a folksinger, traveling all over the United States and to other countries to sing the folk music of France. Daring as she had been in war, she was vehemently outspoken against it in her music; among her many performances was the 1965 Sing-In for Peace at Carnegie Hall. Her a capella performance of “Where Have all the Flowers Gone?” became a much-awaited element of the annual Woodstock Memorial Day ceremonies.
She had several folk music radio programs, beginning with The World Of Folk Music on WKNY in Kingston (1960–1962). She brought in many guest singers to perform, including Pete Seeger, who was still in the crosshairs of the House Un-American Activities Committee, and the interview cost her the show. She hosted Troubabour Songs From Then and Now on WBAI in New York City (1965 to 1967), and hosted another international folklore and music program on WDST in Woodstock (1980–1982). She also hosted a series of 35 PBS folk music television shows and recorded two albums for Folkways Records, now published by the Smithsonian Institute. She more recently released 2 CD albums of songs from France.
Sonia was predeceased by her husband Georges A. Malkine and a daughter, Kim Leslie Malkine, and is survived by four children, Monelle Malkine Richmond, Gilles J. Malkine, Fern S. L. Malkine-Falvey, and Shayan L. Malkine; five grandchildren, Cybèle A. Nielsen, Michel J. Richmond, Aron G. Malkine, André A. Malkine, and Teiji O. Malkine; two great-grandchildren, Tristan Kai Nielsen and Alexandra Jolie Nielsen; a sister, Marie-May Nielsen, of Auvergne, France, and nieces and nephews.
Burial will take place at the Woodstock Artists’ Cemetery on Friday, June 6, at 2 p.m.; all are invited to attend. An auto procession will start at Lasher’s Funeral Home at 1:15 for those wishing to participate, and all others may join the gathering at the grave site. The family will announce a celebration of her life in the near future.