Bringing It All Back Home -
The Folk Music
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
Seeger also formed The Weavers, of "On Top Of Old
Smoky" and "Good Night Irene" fame.
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
Folk music began to reappear in 1960, and came back in
a big way by 1961, embraced by the new generation of
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 =
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
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
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
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
College students, in particular, perceived JFK as
"cool". He was young, energetic, college-educated
(from Harvard!) and socially aware. He was seen as one
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
His next album, "The Times They Are A Changin"
featured the title song, and "The Lonesome Death Of
"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
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.