Dorman Ralph was born on September 21 1923, in Little Harbour Deep, White Bay, Newfoundland. Born into a fishing family, he was the youngest of seven children whose parents, William and Lavinia, both traced their ancestral roots to England.
Stricken by blindness shortly after birth, Dorman and his family settled in Pollard's Point after the resettlement program of the 1950s. Lacking advice on how to care for his special needs, Dorman's family often left him to his own devices. Despite his disability, he described himself as a "little devil...into everything I could get my hands on."
For Dorman, however, the most important specialized skills that he developed during childhood had to do with music. He learned songs from family members, especially his mother, who, in the traditional manner, would sing and sway while holding hands with him. He learned to play the mouth organ at age seven and later was given an accordion by his uncle, George Ralph. Quickly mastering the single row button accordion, he moved on to a double row, his mainstay for many years and the accompanying instrument on this recording. The only accordionist in his family, he learned from hearing local and regionally well known musicians, who played the White Bay dance tune repertoire.
In 1956, Dorman moved to St. John's, where his musical and ballad singing skills were noted by other musicians. He became a popular performer at the Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival, as well as at other festivals in Atlantic Canada. His years in St. John's coincided with a revival of interest in traditional music in Newfoundland, and Dorman left his mark on a younger generation of musicians. He was never happier than when he was sharing his music with others.
Photo by Len Penton