{image via her son Troy Parker’s Facebook page} with his permission

left to right, Donna Banzhof, Rilla Heslin, Kathy Ring, of the filk & folk music band Windbourne. {image via Barney Evans}

We regret to inform you that filk music legend Rilla Heslin, the lead singer of the filk/folk group Windbourne has died. She passed away peacefully at home on March 10, 2024, after a long illness. The cause of death was renal failure. She was born March 1, 1952, the same day but two years before actor/director Ron Howard. She celebrated her 72nd birthday just over a week ago.

She is survived by her sister Melana Owen, her husband Phillip Heslin, her children Ticin Strausburg, Troy Parker, Khara Ruiz and Khamber Heslin, and her grandchildren Zachary Ruiz, Jeremiah Ruiz, Alyssa Ruiz, Sabrina Ruiz, and Sheridan Parker.

Windbourne performed at science fiction conventions across North America: ConDor, ConChord, NolaCon,WesterCon, and many others.

Rilla was a loving wife and mother, and an adoring grandmother. She worked for many years as a 911 operator. Lord Byron might have had her in mind when he wrote “She walks in beauty like the night, Of cloudless climes and starry skies; And all that’s best of dark and bright Meet in her aspect and her eyes; Thus mellowed to that tender light.”

She was as tough as beef jerky, with a soul as gentle as a rose petal. She did not suffer fools gladly. She had a temper, and when aroused, look out! She played the guitar and the bodhran ang sang like an angel. Like most filkers, she not only sang other people’s songs, but composed her own. She sang Fred Small’s “Big Italian Rose” better than he did, or at least more believably, as she was a Junoesque woman. She sang Eric Bogle, Leslie Fish, Julia Ecklar, Tom Lehrer, Harold Groot, and centuries old folk songs as well as her own compositions.

Rilla Heslin co-wrote “Safe Harbor” with her bandmate Harold Groot. With Donna Banzhof she co-wrote “Elfwood” and “Breeze.” With her longtime friend and bandmateKaren Rodgers, she co-wrote Enchantment” and “Night Magic.” She co-wrote “Rainbows in the Sand” with Kathy Ring. Solo, Rilla Heslin wrote “And the Children Shall Lead, “Winds of Time” “Capra” Solitary Woman.” You can occasionally hear her music here on SciFi.Radio.

Her friends and fans often lovingly referred to her as “Mama Rilla” – she was a natural-born Earth-mother. In his poem Wind Born,” poet Robert Stinson described her as “wind born, moon goddess, mother to a multitude.” Stinson also called her “caretaker of nature, native spirit, an instrument of unconditional love and acceptance.” He described her home as “a place “a home of with unending feasts, a hearth of creativity and plentiful furry beasts.” Those of us fortunate enough to have known Mama Rilla personally, not just through her music, would agree Stinson’s words captured her well.

I personally owe her more than I would ever have been able to repay. But as she was a firm believer in the Pay It Forward Theory, that doesn’t mean I won’t try. Rest in peace, Rilla. All comfort to your family.


Susan Macdonald
Susan Macdonald

Susan Macdonald is the author of the children’s book “R is for Renaissance Faire”, as well as 26 short stories, mostly fantasy in “Alternative Truths”, “Swords and Sorceress ”, Swords &Sorceries Vols. 1, 2, & 5, “Cat Tails” “Under Western Stars”, and “Knee-High Drummond and the Durango Kid”. Her articles have appeared on SCIFI.radio’s web site, in The Inquisitr, and in The Millington Star. She enjoys Renaissance Faires (see book above), science fiction conventions,  Highland Games, and Native American pow-wows.