Bringing It All Back Home -
The Folk Music Revival

by Pat Jacobs

Folk and protest music as we know it in the 1960s had its roots at the turn of the 20th century.

The International Workers of the World (IWW), whose members were known as Wobblies, first wrote protest songs as part of their drive to equality for American workers. Their anthem was "Solidarity Forever" (set to the music of "Battle Hymn of the Republic") written by co-organizer Ralph Chaplin. During the "Red Scare" that followed World War I, federal and state enforcement raided and closed the IWW offices.

Woody Guthrie (Bob Dylan's biggest influence) then stepped in. Born Woodrow Wilson Guthrie, he left home at sixteen, working a variety of jobs. He learned to play guitar from an uncle and began playing on street corners. In the late 1930s, he relocated to New York City and became involved in several radical publications and causes.

After World War II (he served for two years), he returned to New York, where he wrote many of his 1,000(!) songs, including "This Land Is Your Land" "Billy The Kid" and "Tom Joad". (His son, Arlo, continues the family folk singing legacy.)

Pete Seeger joined Guthrie, hitting the road to sing. Seeger was born in New York City to a musical family and even attended Harvard, but left college to work with folklorist Alan Lomax. After also serving in World War II, Seeger formed People's Songs, Inc., a musician's union that had 3,000 members, including Guthrie. Seeger also formed The Weavers, of "On Top Of Old Smoky" and "Good Night Irene" fame.

Then Senator Joseph McCarthy came to power; protest singers and any causes or organizations deemed as Communist or un-American were fair game. Seeger, Guthrie, and many others were blacklisted and denied work, save for sporadic, low-level engagements for several years.

Folk music began to reappear in 1960, and came back in a big way by 1961, embraced by the new generation of college students. It was considered a serious alternative to the Brill Building-Phil Spector-teen pop.

The Kingston Trio started the folk revival. Formed in 1957, (by three college students) the Trio had a no. 1 smash "Tom Dooley" in 1958. "The Tijuana Jail" "M.T.A." and "A Worried Man" were all Top 20 hits in 1959. "Where Have All The Flowers Gone" and "Greenback Dollar" both hit at no. 21 in 1962 and 1963, respectively. They returned to the Top 10 with "The Reverend Mr. Black" , also from '63. The Trio became HUGELY successful. Their albums grossed 40 million, and they surpassed Frank Sinatra as Capitol Records' no. 1 moneymaker. Unlike previous folksingers, the Trio projected a safe, wholesome , well-groomed, stable (they were married, and being married = stability) image.

By 1962, The Trio had grossed $1.7 million in total earnings. The folksingers became a corporation! Kingston Trio, Inc., a ten-company investment firm, was established. Properties included a restaurant, a group of music publishing companies, and an office building, among other holdings. The Trio's success inspired others to form singing groups. In 1959, The Limeliters began performing; within a year, they were commanding $4,000 a week and had a best-selling album of international folk songs. (One of its members, Glenn Yarbrough, went on to solo success with "Baby The Rain Must Fall" a 1965 Top 20 hit.)

The New Christy Minstrels, formed in 1962, were blatantly commercial. Founder Randy Sparks even admitted that this group's purpose was strictly to cash in. Their first album sold over 100,000 copies and "Green Green" was a Top 20 hit in 1963. The following year, Sparks sold his interest in the group for $2.5 million. (No further comment, except to say that one of its members, Barry McQuire, went on to have the VERY controversial hit, "Eve Of Destruction". (A no. 1 smash in 1965, though it was banned on many radio stations. Kenny Rogers was also a member!)

The "mainstreaming" of folk music actually led to the rediscovery of the real deal. College kids began listening to Odetta, Judy Collins, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, the reformed Weavers, Appalachian folk music, bluegrass, and electric blues music.

Folk music became a full-blown craze. Coffeehouses sprang up everywhere. Album sales doubled from 1956 to 1961, as folk fans dropped the 45s for albums of their favorite groups. In early 1963, on Saturday night, ABC broadcast Hootenanny; each week viewers got a folk concert on a different campus. There were hootenanny magazines, sweat shirts, and even a film, "Hootenanny Hoot". The civil rights movement (and a few years later, the anti-war and free speech movements) converged with and helped shape the decade's folk music.

Many folk singers, social activists, and college students looked up to movement leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and new President John F. Kennedy as beacons of hope and inspiration. (But Robert F. Kennedy was actually the main force behind the power of the White House. John listened to and was encouraged by Robert. RFK was far more committed to and had a deep-seated passion toward equality for all. Though he was already internationally famous and Attorney General, RFK's star was just beginning to rise.)

College students, in particular, perceived JFK as "cool". He was young, energetic, college-educated (from Harvard!) and socially aware. He was seen as one of them. There were several singers and groups that I'm not sure could be considered pure folk, but did have a folk-type sound or did folk or protest songs in addition to other genres. So I'd like to give an honorary mention to:

Nina Simone, who also wrote, sung, and performed protest and folk songs as a regular part of her act.

Miriam Makeba - The South African singer became a top American star by 1962, and has always included African folk songs in her repertoire. She also performed at President Kennedy's famous birthday party. She's won numerous awards and international acclaim; yet in 1960, her citizenship was revoked for 30 years! She literally didn't have a homeland. She's most famous for "Pata Pata", a no. 12 hit in 1967.

Josh White Jr. started performing at four with his dad, Josh White Sr., and for the next five years. In 1949, he got his first Broadway role. For the next 17 years, he did acting and sang with his dad.

Acting jobs became limited, as he approached 21 in 1961, but the folk revival happened. Jr. went solo as a singer. ( "Do You Close Your Eyes", 1962, is still a favorite Pittsburgh oldie, often played on WWWS. "Early Morning Rain", from 1967, was also a popular favorite.) He performed on many TV shows and returned to Broadway in 1983. From 1963 through the '80s, he's done countless college concerts, and still performs today.

The Brothers Four were related by their college fraternity. They had a no.2 smash in 1960 with "Greenfields". "The Green Leaves Of Summer" from the movie "The Alamo" was nominated for an Oscar. From 1960-1964, they were also a popular college concert draw. They played all the main clubs, performing folk tunes from Ireland, Scotland, Japan, and China.

The Four Freshmen - Their greatest popularity was in the 1950s ( "Graduation Day" "It's A Blue World" "Porciana"), but they did continue recording in the '60s. (My mother has a few of their '60s albums.) The British Invasion did them in for a while, though. This group is still performing, but not with its original members.

The Four Preps were West Coast-based. Their hits included the no. 2 smash(1958), " "26 Miles (Santa Catalina)", "Big Man" (no.3, 1958), and " Down By The Station" (Top 20, 1960). For eight years, from 1956-1965, they charted on the Top 100 13 times, but their sound became passť by the mid-60s. They continued recording until 1967, their last chart hit being "A Letter To The Beatles."  Two original members, Bruce Belland and Ed Cobb, are part of the new Four Preps (Both have had great careers as successful songwriters, TV writers, actors ,voiceover performers, and programming executives.)

The Highwaymen hit no. 1 with "Michael" and the Top 20 hit "Cotton Fields", both from 1961.

The Village Stompers went to no.2 with the instrumental "Washington Square" in 1963.

The Rooftop Singers took "Walk Right In" to no. 1, also in 1963.

Trini Lopez and his version of "If I Had A Hammer" went to no. 3, in 1963 as well.

The Sandpipers had a Top 10 hit (1966) with "Guantanamera".

Bobby Darin had a "comeback" of sorts with the folk-oriented hit (and classic; one of his best) If I Were A Carpenter", a no. 8 smash, also from 1966.

The Springfields had a Top 20 hit with "Silver Threads and Golden Needles" in 1962.( Dusty Springfield was a member.)

Gale Garnett was noted for the classic (and a bit ahead of its time!)1964 hit "We'll Sing In The Sunshine,", a no. 4 smash.

"Walking My Cat Named Dog" was a Top 30 hit for Norma Tanega.

The Pozo-Seco Singers had two Top 40 hits, "I Can Make It With You"(1966) and "Look What You've Done"(1967). They also had the haunting ballad "Time". (Country star Don Williams was a member.)

The trio of Peter, Paul, and Mary straddled both worlds of commercial success and social commitment. Albert Grossman (who was Bob Dylan's manager, launched one of the first folk clubs, and started the first Newport Folk Festival) created the group by putting together folk singer Peter Yarrow (who had a management contract with Grossman), stand-up comic Paul Stookey, and Broadway singer Mary Travers. And this is exactly what Grossman wanted; a visually appealing, across-the-broad look to make protest music accessible to the masses.

The group's first Top 40 hit was "Lemon Tree" (1962). "If I Had A Hammer" was their first Top 10, also from '62. Their debut album sold over 2 million copies. In 1963, they had a no.2 smash with "Blowin In The Wind" and the Top 10 hit "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right", both written by Bob Dylan. (See the connection? ) The trio's renditions helped greatly to bring Dylan national attention and acclaim.)

There were other singers and musicians who were primarily or long established as "folkies". (They often participated in marches and protest demonstrations, practicing what they preached.)

For Judy Collins, music was always a passion; a classically trained pianist, she decided at 17 to become a folk singer and took up guitar. She was signed to Elektra Records after co-founder Jac Holzman saw her perform at New York's Village Gate. In 1961, her first album, A Maid Of Constant Sorrow, (cut in five hours!) was released; thus began 35 years (!) with this company. Her first gold record was "In My Life" (1966), but she's most noted for "Both Sides Now," written by Joni Mitchell, another up-and-comer) a Top 10 smash in 1968. "Amazing Grace" was a Top 20 hit in 1971, and "Send In The Clowns" (1975) was awarded a Grammy for Record Of The Year. ("Clowns" was written by Stephen Sondheim for the Broadway musical "A Little Night Music".) And yes, "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" was written about her by Stephen Stills.

Odetta - She came to New York City in 1953, often appearing at The Blue Angel. Harry Belafonte and Pete Seeger were two of the first people to discover and help her. (Belafonte included her in a television special in 1959.) In 1963, her album Folk Songs became one of the year's best-selling in its category. Then she began recording for Vanguard, a golden period for her.

Working with Maynard Solomon, one of the company co-owners, he helped her select a repertoire, using the company "classical" sound. Accompanying her was bass player Bill Lee (father of Spike). Along with clapping hands, Lee's bass, her guitar, and of course, her voice, classics were made, such as, "No More Auction Block For Me" "Battle Hymn of the Republic" "Cotton Fields" "Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child" and "Joshua Fit The Battle Of Jericho."

Mimi (Baez) Farina was a noted folksinger in her own right, also singing with her late husband, Richard Farina , but was often overshadowed by the immense fame of older sister Joan. She was a gifted guitar player and songwriter. Richard Farina died in 1966 of a motorcycle accident (The couple were married in 1963. Besides a love of folk music, they also shared a common heritage; half Hispanic, half Celtic roots.) She was a widow at just 21. But she kept performing, and in 1974, she started the organization Bread And Roses, that brings live entertainment to those shut away from society, such as the sick, those in prison, the homeless, and the disabled. Mimi Farina Melvin (she married again in 1968) died of lung cancer in 2001. She may not have had Top 40 hits, but she still left an absolutely wonderful legacy .

Buffy St. Marie may well be the first and only folk singer to win an Oscar for Best Song as a co-composer for "Up Where We Belong" (from An Officer And A Gentleman). Born on a Cree reservation in Canada, she was adopted and raised in Maine and Massachusetts. In the early 1960s, she began writing her unique brand of protest and love songs, which have been performed by many artists the world over. ( "Until It's Time For You To Go" "Cripple Creek" and "Universal Soldier" are just three of her enduring classics. I think The Band did a version of "Cripple Creek".)

St. Marie was an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War and as a result, was blacklisted during the Johnson years. For a while, she appeared at grass - roots concerts, AIM (American Indian Movement) events, and other activist benefits. She spent five years on "Sesame Street" and had her first Top 40 hit "Mister, Can't You See" in 1972. She recently acquired a Ph.D in Fine Arts, and is still recording, performing, and lecturing.

Josh White Sr. spend his early years and teens in extreme poverty; he was malnourished, shoeless, and often dressed in rags. From this wretched beginning, he persevered to become one of the genre's greatest. He introduced blues, spirituals, and black folk music to mainstream America.

He was the first black singer to give a White House Command Performance(1941), to perform in previously segregated hotels (1942), to get a million-selling record, "One Meatball"(1944), and the first to make a solo concert tour of America (1945). He enjoyed tremendous success until he was blacklisted in 1950, his career destroyed by the McCarthy trials. White was able to resurrect his career later, though he was now chronically ill. He died from heart disease and other complications in 1969. He was only 54.

Ritchie Havens was greatly influenced by Nina Simone and the Greenwich Village scene. He first gained notice as one of the best live performers around. He's played at the 1966 Newport Folk Festival, 1967 Monterey Jazz Festival, 1968 Miami Pop Festival, the 1969 Isle of Wright one, and also that same year, Woodstock. His second album, Alarm Clock, was his first to reach the Top 30 and also brought forth the Top 20 hit "Here Comes The Sun" (1971). He's also noted for the song "Freedom." Havens has his own record label, Stormy Forest, and is still touring, recording, and performing.

Phil Ochs won his first guitar by betting on Kennedy in the 1960 election while attending Ohio State. In 1961, he wrote his first song, "The Ballad of the Cuban Invasion" (about the Bay Of Pigs) and joined a radical singing group called The Sundowners, or sometimes, The Singing Socialists. In 1962, Ochs dropped out of school and relocated to New York City to start his folk-protest career.

His first album, All The News That's Fit To Sing, was released by Elektra in early 1964 and contained all protest songs, such as "Talking Vietnam".
Later albums produced "The Ballad of the AMA", "Draft Dodger Rag" and "I Ain't Marching Anymore", among others. Ochs practiced what he preached and believed. He not only participated in marches and demonstrations, he went to "hot spots" such as the deep South and Hazard, Kentucky, to openly get involved with the civil rights workers or striking miners, often putting himself in harm's way.

Tom Paxton sometimes played with Ochs at various benefits and concerts. Paxton, a former Army veteran, also relocated to New York City in the early '60s, where he joined the folk/protest crowd. He was signed to Elektra in 1964, and inspired by Dylan, produced Ramblin' Boy, his first album. In 1965, came the album, Ain't That News, one of his most political, which included "Lyndon Johnson Told The Nation" "Buy A Gun For Your Son", and the title song.

Joan Baez was the female Bob Dylan. Her empathy for civil rights and other social causes may stem from her childhood; she knew racial discrimination and prejudice first-hand. Her father was Mexican, her mother Scotch-Irish. Baez lived in a small town in New York, and with her coloring, she was considered "dark-skinned". And caught hell. Her family later moved to Boston, where, during the late 1950s, she began performing traditional folk songs in various coffeehouses around Harvard.

In 1959, Baez debuted at the first Newport Folk Festival. And a star was born. She sold out Carnegie Hall two months in advance. By late 1962, she made the cover of TIME. Baez didn't compose many of her songs, but she or her manager, or both, selected wisely. She was also an activist, involved and participating in many social causes, most notably the civil rights and the anti-war movements. She also rejected big money offers at times if she felt that the music would be compromised. She's played at Woodstock and Live-Aid, among countless others. Her first Top 40 hit was a no. 3 smash, "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" (1971).

And then there was Bob Dylan. He's the top folk singer of the 1960s, bar none, and one of the most important figures in rock and roll history. (Even if he doesn't think so; did you see the recent "60 Minutes" segment on him?) Robert Zimmerman was born in Hibbing, Minnesota, in a town that was prejudiced toward Jewish people. And he was Jewish. Growing up, he found great solace in music. He was a fan of both country and R & B, but also enjoyed rock and roll. He got into folk music when it reached the area.

In 1959, he began to perform traditional folk music and bluegrass in coffeehouses around the University of Minnesota under the name Dillon and then finally, Dylan. In December 1960, he relocated to New York City and frequently visited the now ailing Woody Guthrie (his biggest influence) at a New Jersey state hospital.

In Greenwich Village, Dylan performed and began honing his craft of songwriting. By 1962, he was friends with several civil rights activists and had joined Broadside, co-founded by Pete Seeger, that encouraged young folksingers to write about current topics and events of the day. His second album, Freewheelin, (1963), featured "Blowin In The Wind" and "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall".

Freewheelin's famous cover also features a pretty blonde. This was Suze Rotolo, who worked as secretary for the civil rights group, CORE, and was Dylan's girlfriend at the time. She was another great influence.
His next album, "The Times They Are A Changin" featured the title song, and "The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll". "Another Side Of Bob Dylan" (1964), featured "My Back Pages." "Pages" was actually a disclaimer, a protest against his protest songs!

Dylan became an international star, and THE folk singer to emulate. He was also socially active, giving benefit concerts and participating in causes. But he was never comfortable with the intense fame and even began to self-critize his work, and that of others.

The folk music movement began to fall apart after the Kennedy assassination. Folk singers were becoming disillusioned, including Dylan. Ironically, he would inadvertently create a new musical genre; his greatest success was yet to come.
 
 

 

 


 



 


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