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Dave Stanaway and Susan Askwith in Fur Trade Era costume Dave Stanaway and Susan Askwith

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PRESS: article

2005.12.15Local Songwriters Bring History of Town to Life in New CD

From the Evening News, Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, December 15, 2005, p. 8 (JPG, 200Kb)

SAULT STE. MARIE—Two EUP musicians have put together a CD or original music about John Johnston, one of Sault Ste. Marie's more colorful settlers.

Dave Stanaway and Susan Askwith are lifelong musicians and retired teachers who brought their love of music and teaching backgrounds together to create 'John Johnston--His Life and Times in the Fur Trade Era.'  The work is a concept CD, in which all of the songs together tell a story about Great Lakes frontier life, using topics such as birth, death, work, prejudice, hospitality, and loss.  Beginning with the song, "Easy Come, Easy Go," which gives an overview of Johnson's life and his ability to overcome adversity, the CD weaves a story of life in what was, at the time, the Northwest Frontier of the United States.

“As the project progressed, they found they had more ideas than time to write the songs.”

Although Stanaway and Askwith had written songs individually and had occasionally sung together, they had never collaborated to create original music and lyrics.  

“I wish we could claim that we originated the idea for the subject matter, but in fact, writing the songs was something we did because we were asked,” Stanaway said.

The Chippewa County Historical Society was planning to open the John Johnston Historic Home to the public for the first time in the summer of 2004, and Askwith had been approached to write songs about Johnston and the early 1800s fur trade culture.  These songs would then be performed at concerts for visitors to the home.   

When the two musicians began their songwriting marathon in January 2004, they didn’t know if they would be able to create enough songs to keep an audience entertained for an hour. But as the project progressed, they found they had more ideas than time to write the songs.

“As retired educators, Dave and I understood the value of being able to bring history to a level where people could relate to the times.  Yet, as musicians and songwriters, we needed the songs to be both pleasing to the ear and to have an appeal that transcends the years between 1790 and the present day,”  Askwith explained.

After finding audiences to be very receptive to the idea of learning history through song during the first year’s concerts, Stanaway and Askwith decided to record the songs, with the resulting CD being completed in time for the 2005 concerts.   

The songwriting duo uses traditional folk music style, blended with a contemporary influence, fusing the two by using acoustic guitar with strong instrumentals, and vocals with tight harmonies.   

Some of the songs are clearly frozen in time, because they describe activities that are simply not done today in the same way.  

With most of the songs, however, Stanaway and Askwith aimed for music and lyrics that would give their songs a universal appeal, and convey concepts that are still present today.   

Sweet Willy, My Boy, is the only song with lyrics by someone other than Askwith or Stanaway.  The lyrics are unique in that they were written by Jane Johnston Schoolcraft, a daughter of John Johnston, about the death of her four-year-old son, William Henry Schoolcraft.  The quality of her poetry reflects the level of education that the Johnston children were provided.  The poem articulates the feelings of loss for a loved one that transcend time and place.

Stanaway and Askwith’s CD, 'John Johnston, His Life and Times in the Fur Trade Era,' is available at Book World, Cup of the Day, Alberta House, the LSSU Campus Shoppe, the Mole Hole, and the Kewadin Casino Gift Shop, all in Sault Ste. Marie; in Pickford at American Amish Heirlooms and Wilderness Treasures; and also in Brimley at Stuff’s and the Bay Mills Casino Gift Shop.  Copies may also be purchased online at or through the Lake Street Studio website For more information visit the aforementioned websites or phone the studio, 248-5947.