It's natural that the musical careers of Polly and Heather Stewart would follow similar paths because, well, they're sisters and shared similar influences growing up. Both recall their affection for the songs of Burl Ives and attribute their penchant for folk music, in part, to their mother for encouraging their singing folk songs and spirituals to and from the Stewart family cabin in Provo Canyon—a ploy, says Polly, "to keep us from killing each other in the backseat.”
For Polly, a major influence was Rosalie Sorrels and her family, who moved into the Stewarts' Avenues neighborhood when Polly was in high school. In the evenings, the Sorrels and friends would gather on their front porch to sing and play guitar, and Polly soon found herself a part of the group. "It was a neighborhood thing,” she says.
Sorrels and her husband, Jim, eventually formed the Intermountain Folk Music Council, whose purpose was to promote folksinging in the state of Utah. In June 1961, the group produced its first concert in the Orson Spencer Hall auditorium, and Stewart was one of the performers. "I had a little bit of a repertoire at the time,” says Polly, "but mainly I just was like a sponge, learning all of these new songs that were floating around.” It was under the tutelage of Sorrels, who "was an extremely generous and thoughtful impresario,” that Stewart blossomed as a performer. "[Rosalie] really wanted people to develop their talents, and she was extremely generous with her time, helping young performers become secure and feel okay about singing publicly."
Following graduation from the U, Stewart received a graduate fellowship at the University of Oregon, where she studied medieval and linguistic subjects, as well as folklore with former U of U English professor Barre Toelken. After receiving her doctorate, she taught at Salisbury University in Maryland until her retirement in 2004, when she returned to Salt Lake City. The "Urban Pioneers" project put her back into the environment she left behind more than 40 years ago.
"You know, I'm glad we did it,” Polly says of the concert," but 40 years does take a toll on body and soul. We [Polly, Phillips, and Roylance] got together for this one performance—a small comeback of about 10 minutes-and it was very sweet. But, nobody pretended that we were recreating the past:' she says, laughing at the thought. "We hadn't played together for so many years, and musically, it was not very satisfying, but, the audience loved it and I was glad we were there.” (From article The Revivalists by Linda Marion)