Born: June 14, 1938;

Died: March 22, 2020.

JULIE Felix, who has died aged 81, was once described as Britain’s first lady of folk. This was despite the fact that she was an American who had played in Los Angeles coffee bars and hit the hippy trail before landing in swinging London.

It was in England where her career blossomed, moving through the burgeoning folk-club scene to a record contract with Decca, then into the mainstream as a regular on David Frost’s TV satire show, The Frost Report, and on her own show, Once More with Felix.

The latter appeared on BBC 2 in 1967, and was the first TV series to be broadcast in colour. Running until 1969, it was also notable for its guests, among them Dusty Springfield, Donovan, Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, Spike Milligan and Leonard Cohen. Felix had met Cohen while back-packing around Europe, and on the programme duetted on his song, Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye, which she recorded as a single.

Felix went on to play the Isle of Wight Festival in 1969, sharing a bill with Bob Dylan, whose songs she frequently covered; these ranged from Masters of War and Hard Rain to Mr Tambourine Man and I Shall Be Released.

Despite her mainstream high profile in the 1960s, Felix did not have a hit single until 1970, with If I Could (El Condor Pasa). For generations of schoolchildren she will forever be known for her version of Tom Paxton’s song, Going to the Zoo, on an album of children’s songs. This was despite her record company-cultivated innocent image being shattered somewhat for being arrested for marijuana possession in 1968. She was defended in court by John Mortimer QC, the novelist.

Having taken time out from music at various points over the last fifty years, Felix was latterly taken up by a new generation looking to more organic sounds, and identifying with the sense of social justice that fired her new work.

Julie Ann Felix was born in Santa Barbara, California, to Lorenzo Felix, a mariachi musician of Mexican origin, and Doris Felix (nee Roderhaver), of Native American and Welsh descent. She grew up surrounded by music; her mother introduced her to the work of Burl Ives, while her father taught her to play guitar. She attended Westchester High School in LA, then went to the University of California, where she graduated in speech and drama.

Catching the beatnik zeitgeist, she played and sang in California coffee houses before travelling to Europe with her father’s guitar. She met Cohen on the Greek island of Hydra, where he wrote poetry and novels prior to moving into song. Felix then arrived in London in 1964, just as the UK’s artistic underground was breaking cover.

Without any real drive to be a professional singer, she played the burgeoning folk-club circuit and, despite her free and easy attitude to ambition, signed to Decca. While living in a flat in Chelsea, she met fellow resident David Frost in the lift on the way to the launch of her eponymous debut album. Frost tagged along, and she eventually became resident singer on The Frost Report, which also featured the likes of John Cleese and Ronnie Barker. By that time, her appearances on other TV shows saw Felix’s popularity rise, to the extent that she sold out the Royal Albert Hall.

Two more albums on Decca followed. In 1966, she married David Evans, with whom she wrote The Ones I Love the Most, which appeared on her album, Changes, her first for the Fontana label. Other albums followed, though it wasn’t until she moved to Mickie Most’s RAK Records, a label more associated with bubblegum glam bands, that she made the pop charts. She followed the success of If I Could (El Condor Pasa) on RAK with Heaven is Here, penned by Errol Brown and Tony Wilson of Hot Chocolate.

Having been in the midst of the 1960s social whirl, Felix ducked out of view, and in the late 1970s moved to Norway, where she released two albums, and scored a number 1 hit single with Hota Chocolata (1977). Returning to California, she studied yoga, meditation and healing, and became politically active. Fired by a peace march in Central America, she began to perform again, initially at benefit shows for the peace movement and refugees.

After returning to England in 1994, she set up her own Remarkable Records, releasing Branches in the Mist, her first album for over a decade. She set up a New Age folk club, The Magic Messenger, and became involved in the Goddess movement, dedicated to female spiritual deities.

Throughout the 2000s she struck up a relationship with the Wynd Theatre, Melrose, in the Borders, and in 2018 released what turned out to be her final album, Rock Me Goddess. While her own material was awash with New Age references, she also showed her political colours with a pro-Jeremy Corbyn song, Corbynista. It was the last great protest song by a singer whose wayward musical path might have been forged in the 1960s, but who kept the faith right to the end.

Felix is survived by her daughter, Tanit, and her sister, Elena.