The early 1960’s saw a revival of folk music in United States of America. This movement centered around, but was not exclusive to, New York City’s Greenwich Village. A varied group of young musicians who had been introduced to folk music of the 1930’s and 40’s folk musicians, who themselves made up the first wave of folk music generated by economic displacement, social unrest and a sympathy for socialist movements. The roots of this group can be traced back to the folk-song collecting of Francis James Childs (The Child’s Ballads), and Alan and John Lomax, who traveled the country in search of authentic “folk music” One of their discoveries was Lead Belly, who along with Woody Guthrie and a young Pete Seeger formed the backbone of this movement.
…..Lead Belly’s “Goodnight Irene” which became a number 1 hit for the Weavers in 1950 represents some of his work. Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your land” represents an alternative Patriotism, with its less known but highly subversive verses. Pete Seeger represents the bridge from the pioneers to the revivalists of the 1960’s and the optimism which keeps the struggle alive with “If I Had a Hammer”.
But within two years of reaching #1, “The Weavers”, made up of Seeger, his “Almanac Singers” buddy Lee Hayes, Fred Hellerman and Ronnie Gilbert, were banned from radio and not allowed to perform in public auditoriums because of their left-wing politics in the “Commie Scare” era of the early 1950’s. Perhaps Folk Music would have disappeared anyway as “Rock and Roll” came to the forefront in the mid-50’s, but the shameful treatment of these folk musicians was deplorable.
But in the late 1950’s “Rock and Roll’ also succumbed to forces beyond its control and saw a severe drop in its cutting edge music. In 1957 Jerry Lee Lewis was pushed out after his marriage to his 13 year old second cousin; Elvis got drafted in 1958, and with the death of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper in Feb., 1959, Rock and Roll suffered a huge loss. Around this time a new group of young musicians surfaced in New York City centered around Greenwich Village.
An early, and very commercially oriented but not particularly authentic folk group, was the very Collegiate “Kingston Trio” who had a string of hits starting with 1959’s “Tom Dooley” and adaptation of an old ballad called “Tom Dula”, about a man who kills his beloved because of another man she had been seeing.
… If there was one person who was considered the starting point for this revival it would have to be Dave Van Ronk, the so-called “Mayor of McDougal St.” With his arrangement of “House of the Rising Sun”, copied by everyone since but especially Bob Dylan and “The Animals”, and his renditions of Blues classics such as “Cocaine Blues” he was in the forefront of this movement. Also early Pioneers were the husband and wife team of Mimi (Baez – Joan’s older sister) and Richard Farina of “Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me” fame. Their song “Pack Up Your Sorrows” is a folk standard.
Tom Paxton was one of the first folk performers of this era to begin to focus on writing and singing his own folk songs such as “Last Thing on My Mind”, “Ramblin’ Boy” and ”Bottle of Wine”. But perhaps the most important and enduring figure to emerge from this movement has to be Bob Dylan, who penned the generational manifesto “The Times They Are a’Changing” and the anthem of the Civil Rights and Anti-war movements, “Blowing in the Wind”, which was sung by Peter, Paul and Mary in August 1963 on the same day as Martin Luther King’s: “I Have a Dream” speech.
Another of the powerful topical song writers of the day was Phil Ochs, whose song “Draft Dodger Rag” was instrumental in getting the Smothers Brothers show removed from the CBS network lineup while the #1 show on television.
A couple of young Jewish lads from New York with the unusual name of “Simon and Garfunkle” were instrumental in developing a pop-rock type of folk music with their very first hit “Sounds of Silence”
We should not forget the wonderful songs of Tim Hardin who’s “If I Were a Carpenter” has been recorded by so many including Bobby Darin and Johnny Cash, and his “Reason to Believe” was a smash for Rod Stewart.
And then there was a young Englishman, named Donavan, who came from a folk music loving family and gave us such beautiful songs as “Catch the Wind, “Colors” and “Sunshine Superman”.
With the British Invasion starting in 1964 with “The Beatles” and the renewal of Rock music that followed, folk music took a back seat to Rock as a dominant form of popular music. Still it continues to this day as a viable alternative musical universe as can be exemplified by song such as Steve Goodman’s “City of New Orleans” (a 1972 hit for Arlo Guthrie) and Jerry Jeff Walker’s “Mr. Bojangles”( a continually recorded classic of the genre).
I have written a number of “folk” songs myself, as I was influenced by these great performers and would like to share my song entitled “Blankenship’s Mine” a telling of the story of the of the mine disaster in the Big Branch Mine in April 2010 in which 29 miners died.