Folk City: New York and the American Folk Music Revival

Oxford University Press
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From Washington Square Park and the Gaslight Café to WNYC Radio and Folkways Records, New York City's cultural, artistic, and commercial assets helped to shape a distinctively urban breeding ground for the folk music revival of the 1950s and 60s. Folk City explores New York's central role in fueling the nationwide craze for folk music in postwar America. It involves the efforts of record company producers and executives, club owners, concert promoters, festival organizers, musicologists, agents and managers, editors and writers - and, of course, musicians and audiences. In Folk City, authors Stephen Petrus and Ron Cohen capture the exuberance of the times and introduce readers to a host of characters who brought a new style to the biggest audience in the history of popular music. Among the savvy New York entrepreneurs committed to promoting folk music were Izzy Young of the Folklore Center, Mike Porco of Gerde's Folk City, and John Hammond of Columbia Records. While these and other businessmen developed commercial networks for musicians, the performance venues provided the artists space to test their mettle. The authors portray Village coffee houses not simply as lively venues but as incubators of a burgeoning counterculture, where artists from diverse backgrounds honed their performance techniques and challenged social conventions. Accessible and engaging, fresh and provocative, rich in anecdotes and primary sources, Folk City is lavishly illustrated with images collected for the accompanying major exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York in 2015.
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About the author

Stephen Petrus is an Andrew W. Mellon Research Fellow at the New-York Historical Society, where he is working on his second book, a political and cultural history of Greenwich Village in the 1950s and 60s. At the Museum of the City of New York, he curated the exhibition Folk City, on view until January 10th, 2016, and was co-author of the show's accompanying book, with historian Ronald D. Cohen. Petrus has published essays on twentieth-century U.S. urban and cultural history. He received his Ph.D. in history from the City University Graduate Center and taught at Lehman College in the Bronx. He currently lives in Brooklyn. Ronald D. Cohen is Emeritus Professor of History at Indiana University Northwest in Gary, Indiana. He is the author of numerous books on the history of folk music including The Pete Seeger Reader (OUP, 2014) and was the co-producer/writer of the 10-CD boxed set Songs for Political Action: Folk Music, Topical Songs and the American Left, 1926-1954 (1996).
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Additional Information

Publisher
Oxford University Press
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Published on
Jun 8, 2015
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Pages
304
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ISBN
9780190231033
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Best For
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Language
English
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Genres
Music / Genres & Styles / Folk & Traditional
Music / History & Criticism
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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For a brief period from the late 1950s to the mid-1960s, folk music captured a mass audience in the United States, as college students and others swarmed to concerts by the likes of Peter, Paul & Mary, Joan Baez, and Bob Dylan. In this comprehensive study, Ronald D. Cohen reconstructs the history of this singular cultural moment, tracing its origins to the early decades of the twentieth century. Drawing on scores of interviews and numerous manuscript collections, as well as his own extensive files, Cohen shows how a broad range of traditions--from hillbilly, gospel, blues, and sea shanties to cowboy, ethnic, and political protest music--all contributed to the genre known as folk. He documents the crucial work of John Lomax and other collectors who, with the assistance of recording companies, preserved and distributed folk music in the 1920s. During the 1930s and 1940s, the emergence of left-wing politics and the rise of the commercial music marketplace helped to stimulate wider interest in folk music. Stars emerged, such as Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, Pete Seeger, Burl Ives, and Josh White. With the success of the Weavers and the Kingston Trio in the 1950s, the stage was set for the full-blown "folk revival" of the early 1960s. Centered in New York's Greenwich Village and sustained by a flourishing record industry, the revival spread to college campuses and communities across the country. It included a wide array of performers and a supporting cast of journalists, club owners, record company executives, political activists, managers, and organizers. By 1965 the boom had passed its peak, as rock and roll came to dominate the marketplace, but the folk revival left an enduring musical legacy in American culture.
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For a brief period from the late 1950s to the mid-1960s, folk music captured a mass audience in the United States, as college students and others swarmed to concerts by the likes of Peter, Paul & Mary, Joan Baez, and Bob Dylan. In this comprehensive study, Ronald D. Cohen reconstructs the history of this singular cultural moment, tracing its origins to the early decades of the twentieth century. Drawing on scores of interviews and numerous manuscript collections, as well as his own extensive files, Cohen shows how a broad range of traditions--from hillbilly, gospel, blues, and sea shanties to cowboy, ethnic, and political protest music--all contributed to the genre known as folk. He documents the crucial work of John Lomax and other collectors who, with the assistance of recording companies, preserved and distributed folk music in the 1920s. During the 1930s and 1940s, the emergence of left-wing politics and the rise of the commercial music marketplace helped to stimulate wider interest in folk music. Stars emerged, such as Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, Pete Seeger, Burl Ives, and Josh White. With the success of the Weavers and the Kingston Trio in the 1950s, the stage was set for the full-blown "folk revival" of the early 1960s. Centered in New York's Greenwich Village and sustained by a flourishing record industry, the revival spread to college campuses and communities across the country. It included a wide array of performers and a supporting cast of journalists, club owners, record company executives, political activists, managers, and organizers. By 1965 the boom had passed its peak, as rock and roll came to dominate the marketplace, but the folk revival left an enduring musical legacy in American culture.
From Washington Square Park and the Gaslight Café to WNYC Radio and Folkways Records, New York City's cultural, artistic, and commercial assets helped to shape a distinctively urban breeding ground for the folk music revival of the 1950s and 60s. Folk City explores New York's central role in fueling the nationwide craze for folk music in postwar America. It involves the efforts of record company producers and executives, club owners, concert promoters, festival organizers, musicologists, agents and managers, editors and writers - and, of course, musicians and audiences. In Folk City, authors Stephen Petrus and Ron Cohen capture the exuberance of the times and introduce readers to a host of characters who brought a new style to the biggest audience in the history of popular music. Among the savvy New York entrepreneurs committed to promoting folk music were Izzy Young of the Folklore Center, Mike Porco of Gerde's Folk City, and John Hammond of Columbia Records. While these and other businessmen developed commercial networks for musicians, the performance venues provided the artists space to test their mettle. The authors portray Village coffee houses not simply as lively venues but as incubators of a burgeoning counterculture, where artists from diverse backgrounds honed their performance techniques and challenged social conventions. Accessible and engaging, fresh and provocative, rich in anecdotes and primary sources, Folk City is lavishly illustrated with images collected for the accompanying major exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York in 2015.
Perhaps the most widely recognized figure in folk music and one of the most well-known figures in American political activism, Pete Seeger now belongs among the icons of 20th-century American culture. The road to his current status as activist and respected voice of folk music was long and often rough, starting from the moment he dropped out of Harvard in the late 1930s and picked up a banjo. Editors Ronald Cohen and James Capaldi trace Seeger's long and storied career, focusing on his work as not only a singer, but also on his substantial contributions as an educator, songwriter, organizer, publisher, and journalist. The son of musicians, Seeger began his musical career before World War II and became well-known in the 1950s as a member of the commercially popular Weavers, only to be blacklisted by much of the mainstream media in the 1960s because of his progressive politics, and to return to the music scene in subsequent decades as a tireless educator and activist. The Pete Seeger Reader gathers writings from numerous sources, mixing Seeger's own work with that of the many people who have, over the years, written about him. Many of the pieces have never before been republished, and cover his entire career. A figure of amazing productivity, influence, and longevity, Seeger is author of a life that has been both cast in heroic terms and vilified. The selections in this book draw from a full range of these perspectives and will inform as they entertain, bringing into focus the life and contributions of one of the most influential figures of the twentieth century.
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