Featured Profile

Hank Cramer
Singer/Shantyman

Hank Cramer is one of the best-loved folksingers in the American West. He's known for his booming bass voice, smooth picking on a vintage flat-top guitar, and a wry sense of humor. Hank's repertoire is a mix of original, traditional, and contemporary folk songs. They tell the stories of cowboys, sailors, soldiers, miners, adventurers, and just plain drifters. That fits with Hank’s life story: he has been an underground miner, a professional soldier, shanty-man on a square-rigged sailing ship, wrangler for a high-country outfitter, and a world traveler. Those experiences make Hank’s music ring with a special authenticity.

Hank was born in North Carolina. His father was an Army “Green Beret”, his mother an elementary school-teacher. Hank’s father, Captain Harry G. Cramer, was killed in Vietnam in 1957, the first American soldier lost in that conflict. Hank’s mother never remarried, but raised her three children as a “single mom”. Hank inherited a gift of music from his father, and by high school was a prominent performer in glee club, choir, and school musicals. He learned guitar and banjo while still in school, and was heavily influenced by the Kingston Trio, Gordon Lightfoot, and the Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem.

While earning his degree at University of Arizona, Hank performed solo in college coffee-houses and Tucson bars. He also worked summers as an underground copper miner and as a radio dee-jay. After graduation in 1976, he followed in his father’s foot-steps to become an Army officer, paratrooper, and Green Beret. He served in Germany, Central America, Korea, Okinawa, the Philippines, and several stateside posts. He was able to sustain his music as a hobby during those years. While stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado in 1982, Hank fronted the country-rock band Dakota and recorded his first album with them. Wherever Hank deployed around the world, he packed his guitar along with his duffel-bag, and the music eased the strain of service and created many good memories for his soldier-buddies.

Hank left active military service in 1990, though he continued his service in the reserves. For the next nine years he led a dual life. By day, he designed, built, and managed 9-1-1 emergency dispatch centers in Colorado and Washington. By nights and weekends, he performed and recorded music with several of the Northwest’s best-loved folk groups: Victory At Sea, The Rounders, The Cutters, and The Ferryboat Musicians. Hank’s boisterous renditions of nautical work-songs (“sea shanties”) led to a stint as “shanty-man” and helmsman aboard the brig Lady Washington, an authentic replica of the first American ship to enter Northwest waters in the 1780’s. Maritime museums around the country took note of Hank’s voice, and he was soon performing concerts and workshops for the National Maritime Museum in San Francisco, the Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria, the Texas Maritime Museum, the Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, and aboard USS Constellation in Baltimore Harbor.

Hank's repertoire of cowboy songs also drew positive attention from the western music community. That has led to appearances at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, NV; the High Desert Museum in Bend, OR; the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, WY; the National Oregon Trail Interpretive Center in Baker City, OR; and cowboy music gatherings throughout the West.

Hank’s touring circuit spread wider and wider, until in 1998 he finally dropped his “day job” in order to meet the demands of a successful music career. He now has eighteen CD’s, four music videos, and three movie sound-tracks to his credit. Heartland Public Radio named Hank's rendition of "Sweet Wyoming Home" the #5 Cowboy Song of 2007. Texas Public Radio placed two of Hank's songs in their Top Twenty for the year, and Northwest Public Radio chose Hank's CD "Songs From Maurie's Porch" as one of the Top Ten folk albums for 2006.

Hank also teaches educational programs which weave together music, history, and cultural traditions. These include ElderHostel classes and the "Inquiring Mind" lecture series sponsored by Humanities Washington.

After 9/11, Hank interrupted his music career to resume military service to the country. At first he taught ROTC at the University of Washington, then in 2004 volunteered for duty in Afghanistan as a senior adviser to the Afghan National Army. During this tour, he received an accidental injury to his right leg. A serious staph infection developed, and Hank was medevaced to Landstuhl Army Hospital in Germany, and then back to the United States. At one point it appeared he would lose part of the leg, but after three surgeries he fully recovered. Hank is now retired from the Army as a lieutenant colonel with 28 years of service, and has resumed his concert tours and recording schedule.

Hank married Kit McLean of Winthrop, Washington in 2000. She is a fourth-generation resident of the Methow Valley, her great-grandfather having prospected and homesteaded here in 1894. Kit is a high-country wrangler in one of America’s most scenic mountain ranges, and when Hank’s home from the road he enjoys joining Kit for trail rides and entertaining the guests with cowboy songs around the campfire. Hank’s two grown sons, Hank IV and Christopher, live in Colorado and are themselves aspiring guitarists and singers. His step-daughter Kelsey is a high-school student who plays softball, volleyball, and basketball. The Cramers live on a small ranch with horses, ponies, and Spike, the world's laziest cat.


Recent Contributions by Hank Cramer