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Sunday, June 18, 2017

The American Folk Music Revival in 1963

When Baby Houseman carried a watermelon into the Kellerman hotel's bunkhouse, she was impressed not only by the dirty dancing, but also by the rhythm-and-blues music -- The Contours'  Do You Love Me? and Otis Redding's Love Man. Sure, she had heard such music, but it was not music that she had listened to.

Any earnest 17-year-old Jewish girl who had enrolled in all-women Mount Holyoke College and intended to join the Peace Corps listened to folk music, especially Joan Baez. The following video shows Baez singing "It Ain't Me, Babe" in a concert in1963.

The following video shows Baez singing "Barbara Allen" in a coffee house in about 1961. (The song "Barbara Allen" was in her 1961 album Joan Baez, Volume 2.)

All the students at Mount Holyoke listened to Joan Baez all the time. They never listened to The Contours or to Otis Redding. They had heard The Contours and Otis Redding, of course, but only as background noise, when someone else in their vicinity was listening to a radio.

According to Ultra Lists, the top 30 songs of 1963, included two songs by Peter, Paul and Mary -- "Puff the Magic Dragon" (#16) and "Blowing in the Wind" (#17). The following video shows them singing "Blowing in the Wind" in about 1963. (The song was in their 1963 album In the Wind.)

The Holyoke students of the 1960s loved Mary Travers because she as the trio's only female was its center of attention, and they loved Peter Yarrow because he was Jewish.

Joan Baez and Peter, Paul and Mary were part of the American folk music revival, which peaked in the early 1960s. This is the music that Baby Houseman and her fellow students at Mount Holyoke listened to. The Wikipedia article about the revival includes the following passages:
The Kingston Trio, a group originating on the West Coast, were directly inspired by the Weavers in their style and presentation and covered some of the Weaver's material ... The Kingston Trio avoided overtly political or protest songs and cultivated a clean-cut, collegiate persona. They were discovered while playing at a college club .... Their first hit was a catchy rendition of an old-time folk murder ballad, "Tom Dooley" ...

This went gold in 1958 and sold more than three million copies. The success of the album and the single earned the Kingston Trio a Grammy award for Best Country-and-Western Performance at the awards' inaugural ceremony in 1959. At the time, no folk-music category existed in the Grammy's scheme.
The next year, largely as a result of The Kingston Trio album and "Tom Dooley", the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences instituted a folk category and the Trio won the first Grammy Award for Best Ethnic or Traditional Folk Recording for its second studio album At Large. At one point, The Kingston Trio had four records at the same time among the Top 10 selling albums for five consecutive weeks in November and December 1959 ... a record unmatched for more than 50 years ....

The huge commercial success of the Kingston Trio, whose recordings between 1958 and 1961 earned more than $25 million for Capitol records (about $195 million in 2014 dollars) spawned a host of groups that were similar in some respects like the Brothers Four, Peter, Paul and Mary, The Limeliters, The Chad Mitchell Trio, The New Christy Minstrels and more. 
The above video shows how The Kingston Trio looked in 1958. By 1963, they looked very different, as seen in the below video. (The video's song, "Try to Remember", from the musical The Fantasticks, was sung also by Jerry Orbach, the actor who played Jake Houseman in Dirty Dancing.)

The following video shows The Brothers Four singing "Four Strong Winds" in about 1963 (the song was on their 1963 album The John B Sails.)

The following video shows The Limeliters singing "John Henry" and "I Am A Weary and Lonesome Travel" in a concert the early 1960s. (The two songs are in their 1960 album The Limelighters.) Click on the video and then click on the words Watch this video on Youtube.

The following video shows The Chad Mitchell Trio singing (with Roger McGruinn) on television in 1962.

The following video shows The New Christy Minstrels singing "Michael Row the Boat Ashore" in concert in the early 1960s.

By the way, I have published in another blog an article titled The Meaning of the Song Michael Row the Boat Ashore.

The Wikipedia article about the American folk music revival continues:
The Kingston Trio's popularity would be followed by that of Joan Baez, whose debut album Joan Baez, reached the top ten in late 1960 and remained on the Billboard charts for over two years. Baez's early albums contained mostly traditional material such as the Scottish ballad, "Mary Hamilton", as well as many covers of melancholy ballads that had appeared in Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music, such as "The Wagoner's Lad" and "The Butcher Boy". She did not try to imitate the singing style of her source material, however, but used a rich soprano with vibrato.

Her popularity (and that of the folk revival itself) would place Baez on the cover of Time Magazine in November 1962. Baez, unlike the Kingston Trio, was openly political, and as the civil rights movement gathered steam, aligned herself with Pete Seeger, Guthrie and others. She was one of the singers, along with Seeger, Josh White, Peter, Paul and Mary and Bob Dylan, who appeared at Martin Luther King's 1963 March on Washington and sang "We Shall Overcome", a song that had been introduced by People's Songs.

Harry Belafonte was also present on that occasion, along with Odetta, whom Martin Luther King introduced as "the queen of folk music", when she sang "Oh, Freedom" (Odetta Sings Folk Songs was one of 1963's best-selling folk albums). Also on hand were the SNCC Freedom Singers, the personnel of which went on to form Sweet Honey in the Rock.
The following video shows Odetta, "the queen of folk music", singing on television in January 1963.

The following video shows The Freedom Singers singing "We Shall Not Be Moved" at the March on Washington in August 28, 1963.

The Wikipedia article about the American folk music revival continues:
The critical role played by Freedom Songs in the voter registration drives, freedom rides, and lunch counter sit-ins during the Civil Rights Movement of the late 1950s and early '60s in the South, gave folk music tremendous new visibility and prestige. ....

It was not long before the folk-music category came to include less traditional material and more personal and poetic creations by individual performers, who called themselves "singer-songwriters". As a result of the financial success of high-profile commercial folk artists, record companies began to produce and distribute records by a new generation of folk revival and singer-songwriters—Phil Ochs, Tom Paxton, Eric von Schmidt, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Dave Van Ronk, Judy Collins, Tom Rush, Fred Neil, Gordon Lightfoot, Billy Ed Wheeler, John Denver, Arlo Guthrie, Harry Chapin, John Hartford, and others. ...

The Wikipedia article about the American music folk music arrival neglects to include The Smothers Brothers. The following video shows them performing on The Judy Garland Show. I don't know when this particular show was broadcast, but the show was broadcast from September 1963 through March 1964.

In 1963, I was the eleven-year-old son of a teacher at a Lutheran college teacher in Seward, Nebraska, and our family listened to religious music and folk music. Our family acquired its first record player in about 1963, and I immediately bought all the Smothers Brothers albums on sale in our small town.

My parents bought albums of The Limelighters albums and of The New Christy Minstrels.

The following video shows The Smothers Brothers performing the song "Boil That Cabbage Down" on television in 1963.

The Smothers Brothers lovingly and brilliantly mocked the conventions and pieties of the American folk music revival, which was in its final months and would end abruptly soon after 1963.


The Wikipedia article about the American folk music revival describes how the revival was overwhelmed by The Beatles and the British Invasion.
The British Invasion of the mid-1960s helped bring an end to the mainstream popularity of American folk music as a wave of British bands overwhelmed most of the American music scene, including folk. Ironically, the roots of the British Invasion were in American folk, specifically a variant known as skiffle as popularized by Lonnie Donegan. However, most of the British Invasion bands had been extensively influenced by rock and roll by the time their music had reached the United States and bore little resemblance to its folk origins. ....

After Bob Dylan began to record with a rocking rhythm section and electric instruments in 1965, many other still-young folk artists followed suit. Meanwhile, bands like The Lovin' Spoonful and the Byrds, whose individual members often had a background in the folk-revival coffee-house scene, were getting recording contracts with folk-tinged music played with a rock-band line-up. Before long, the public appetite for the more acoustic music of the folk revival began to wane.

"Crossover" hits ("folk songs" that became rock-music-scene staples) happened now and again. One well-known example is the song "Hey Joe", copyrighted by folk artist Billy Roberts, and recorded by rock singer/guitarist Jimi Hendrix just as he was about to burst into stardom in 1967. The anthem "Woodstock," which was written and first sung by Joni Mitchell while her records were still nearly entirely acoustic and while she was labeled a "folk singer", became a hit single for Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young when the group recorded a full-on rock version.

By the late 1960s, the scene had returned to being more of a lower-key, aficionado phenomenon, although sizable annual acoustic-music festivals were established in many parts of North America during this period. The acoustic music coffee-house scene survived at a reduced scale.

Imagine that you were a 17-year-old Jewish good-girl who always listened to this folk music and then on about August 11, 1963, you walked into a bunkhouse where "dirty dancing" music and dancing was going on.

One cultural era ended and another began when The Beatles arrived in the USA on February 7, 1964. Soon after that date, the American folk music revival was swept away.

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