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After starting high school in 1963, Near began singing with the Freedom Singers, a folk group modeled on The Weavers. In 1968, she enrolled in the Theatre Arts program at UCLA; that year she attended her first Vietnam War peace vigil and joined Another Mother for Peace.
Near's professional career began in 1969 with a part on the television show, The Mod Squad, which was followed by appearances in other shows, such as All in the Family and The Partridge Family, as well as in films like Slaughterhouse-Five and Minnie and Moskowitz. She was briefly a member of the musical comedy troupe, "First National Nothing", and appeared on the troupe's only album, If You Sit Real Still and Hold My Hand, You Will Hear Absolutely Nothing (Columbia Records - LP C 30006).
In 1970, Near was a cast member of the Broadway musical, Hair; following the Kent State shootings in May of that year, the entire cast staged a silent vigil in protest. In 1971, she joined the FTA (Free The Army) Tour, an anti-Vietnam War road show of music, comedy and plays, organized by antiwar activist Fred Gardner and actors Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland.
During her long career in folk and protest music, Holly Near has worked with a wide array of musicians, including Ronnie Gilbert, Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, Mercedes Sosa, Bernice Johnson Reagon, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, Cris Williamson, Linda Tillery, Joan Baez, Phil Ochs, Harry Belafonte, and many others, as well as the Chilean exile group, Inti-Illimani.
In 1972, Near founded an independent record label called Redwood Records (now defunct) to produce and promote music by "politically conscious artists from around the world".
She has been recognized many times for her work for social change, including honors from the ACLU, the National Lawyers Guild, the National Organization for Women, NARAS, Ms. Magazine (Woman of the Year), and the Legends of Women's Music Award.
As a result of her travels in the Pacific with the FTA show, Near became a feminist, linking international feminism and anti-war activism. In 1976, Holly Near came out as a lesbian and began a three year relationship with musician, Meg Christian. Near was probably the first out lesbian to be interviewed in People Magazine. She added GLBT issues to her international peace work as she continued to present social change music around the world and at home. Although Holly was one of the most visible artists in the lesbian community, she was also becoming aware that "monogamous" defined her sexuality more than any other title. Holly has been in a relationship with a man since 1994. Holly Near wrote a biography in the early nineties which is currently out of print. It was called ‘Fire In The Rain, Singer In The Storm'. Later, with her sister Timothy, Near cowrote a one woman show based on the stories in the book. The show was presented at The San Jose Rep, in Los Angeles at The Mark Taper Forum as well as productions in San Francisco and off Broadway in NYC.
Her composition "Singing For Our Lives" appears in Singing the Living Tradition, the official hymnal of the Unitarian Universalist Association, under the title "We Are A Gentle, Angry People" (Hymn #170) . The hymn was also performed by Quaker Friends in an episode of the TV series "'Six Feet Under'".
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