[This tribute to the life of Layne Redmond was written by academic, activist, and performance artist, Wendy Griffin. Wendy Griffin is the Academic Dean at Cherry Hill Seminary and Professor Emerita from California State University in Long Beach. She and Layne have been friends since the early 90s.]
Layne Redmond, author, mythologist, teacher, historian and drummer par excellence, passed over early Monday morning on October 28, after fighting breast cancer for several years.
Born in 1952, Layne lived her early life in Florida, graduating from the University of Florida and doing Master’s work in art. A move to New York put her in touch with well-known drummer Glen Valez, who promised to teach her how to play the hour-glass drum known as the dumbek. The Fates intervened, however, for when Layne arrived for her first class, Glen told her his ceramic dumbek had fallen and broken. He handed Layne a frame drum and, in a very real sense, Layne never put the frame drum down.
As she grew more proficient as a frame drummer, she began to teach other women and formed performance groups that did drumming rituals on the solstices and equinoxes. Traditional holidays were reimaged, as Valentine’s Day became a ritual dedicated to Innana and Demuzi and reenactments were done of the procession of women drummers on the walls of Hathor’s temple in Egypt.
During her 15 year research on the drum, Layne discovered a large number of ancient images of women playing the frame drum from the Mediterranean and almost no images of men and the drum. Incensed by one museum’s description of these drummers as women with cakes, Layne began writing “When the Drummers Were Women,” the book that explored the little-known history of the frame drum as a sacred tool, the fact that the primary percussionists for a period of almost 3000 years in the Mediterranean were women, and the reasons why that changed and the information was lost.
The book was immensely popular and translated into German, Dutch and Persian. Layne collected thousands of images, and in the majority, the drummers were Goddesses or their priestesses. The many images and histories of women with powerful spiritual authority and the use of the drum as a sacred instrument resonated strongly in the contemporary Pagan and Goddess communities. Some women’s groups began to incorporate the frame drum into their sabbat rituals.
In 2000, DRUM! Magazine listed Layne as one of the 53 Heavyweight Drummers Who Made A Difference in the ’90s. She was the only woman on the list, as well as the first woman to have a Signature Series of drums with Remo, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of drums. Layne recorded, taught and performed internationally. Among the many things for which she will be remembered is returning the frame drum to Malta, and the group of women she taught there still performs spiritual rituals.
While performing at the UFBA Percussion Festival in Salvador, Brazil, Layne became fascinated by the spiritual tradition of Candomble. She spent the last few years filming the living presence of the Orixas in modern Brazilian culture.
When her breast cancer returned this year, Layne faced it with fierce courage, deciding to live her life fully until the very last moment. A few months ago, she began to turn her film on the Orixas into short videos she could post on Youtube. She wanted to make sure those who contributed to her filming on Kickstarter would see the results of their generosity. When she went into hospice, she told friends that she was only alive to finish that work.
Thirteen days before the very end, a friend helped Layne slip out of hospice in North Carolina and go to her 43rd high school reunion. From there she went to Manatee Springs, a place from her childhood. “Really,” she wrote on FaceBook the day of her last visit, “I was raised in the womb of Oxun.”
And now Layne Redmond, High Priestess of the Drum, has returned to Her. We are impoverished by her loss but immensely enriched by her life.