In Memoriam: Martha Forsyth
In Memoriam: Martha Forsyth

October 10, 1940 – September 24, 2023

Martha Forsyth, a dedicated and faithful officer of the Bulgarian Studies Association, passed away in the early morning of September 24, 2023. Martha was the archivist and historian for the Bulgarian Studies Association, serving as its secretary-treasurer since 1982 until 2014. As a generous and warm-hearted person, and a great admirer and researcher of Bulgarian musical folklore, she will be incredibly missed by all who had the pleasure of knowing her.

“Martha was the source of continuity for the BSA throughout its many changes of officers, as well as being the institutional memory of the institution. By continuing it and devoting so much time and effort to its financial health (especially the fundraising for the BSA-BAN conferences held in the US) through good times and difficult ones, she really was the heart of the BSA”.

Cynthia Vakareliyska

Martha Forsyth was an independent scholar specializing in Bulgarian traditional singing. She finished her Slavic language and literature Bachelor’s degree at Radcliffe College in 1962 and earned her Master’s at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in 1964. Her love for Bulgarian folklore dates back to the time when she studied at university and enrolled in a course on Slavic folklore, where she was introduced to the authentic folklore from Bulgaria. In 1976 she visited Bulgaria for the first time and attended the National Festival of Bulgarian Folklore in Koprivshtitsa. During that trip, she met and started collaborating with scholars from the Institute of Musicology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. Martha visited the villages of Bistritsa and Zheleznitsa near Sofia, as well as Velingrad, and met with local singers. She ultimately made more than 16 research trips to Bulgaria, some of them funded by IREX (1980-81), and the Fulbright Program (1988). During these trips, she recorded traditional Bulgarian songs from southwestern Bulgaria which she later transcribed, even translating some of them into English.

Through her 40 years of research in Bulgaria, she amassed an impressive archive that included over 4,000 songs (recorded between 1978–1983), which were transferred to the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Martha became the founding member of the Boston-based Bulgarian Music Ensemble ZDRAVETS [] and frequently gave lectures at various conferences. Among her publications was her 1996 bilingual English-Bulgarian book Listen Daughter and Remember Well, dedicated to the songs of Linka Gergova from the Village of Bístritsa (

In addition to her specialization in Bulgarian singing, Marta Forsyth was a master of traditional beadwork, which she studied in Sarnitze in the western Bulgarian Rhodope Mountains. She was co-founder of the cooperative “Beads Without End” (photos at Martha was also accomplished in the art of making carded belts in the Bulgarian tradition, a skill she learned in Bulgaria.

In 2012, during the 9th Joint Meeting of Bulgarian and North American Scholars organized by the Bulgarian Studies Association and Bulgarian Academy of Sciences (BAS) in Eugene, Oregon, Martha was recognized by the Academy for her contribution to the research and promotion of Bulgarian folklore.

Martha Forsyth’s passion for her work inspired a wider interest in Bulgarian folklore and traditions in the United States and internationally. She was a great advocate and friend of Bulgaria, where she will be always remembered and loved.

We offer our deepest condolences to Martha’s family, friends and colleagues during this difficult time. We would like to express our gratitude to Martha’s son Peter Forsyth, Cynthia Vakareliyska and Vessela Warner for their contributions about her illustrious life and career.

From the leadership of the Bulgarian Studies Association:
Dilyana Ivanova Zieske, President
Daria White, Vice President
Traci Speed, Treasurer