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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Ewan MacColl is widely recognized as a key figure in the English folk revival, who tried to convey traditional music to a mass audience. Dominant in the movement during the 1950s and much of the 1960s, his position has come under attack in more recent years from some scholars. While it would be arrogant to claim to 'set the record straight', this book will contribute significantly to the debate surrounding MacColl's importance. MacColl gave two extended interviews with co-editor Giovanni Vacca in 1987 and 1988, not long before his death, and these provide the impetus for a re-examination of his methods, his politics and his aesthetic aims. The book also provides critical overviews of MacColl's activities in the revival and of his practices, particularly as writer and singer. The time is ripe for such a contribution, following Peter Cox's study of the Radio Ballads, and in the context of biographies by Joan Littlewood and Frankie Armstrong. The contributions locate MacColl in his own historical context, attempting to understand some of the characteristic techniques through which he was able to write and sing such extraordinary songs, which capture so well for others the detail and flavour of their lives. Great emphasis is placed on the importance of seeing MacColl as not only a British, but a European folk activist, through discussion of his hitherto barely known work in Italy, enabling a re-contextualization of his work within a broader European context. The interviews themselves are fluent and fascinating narrations in which MacColl discusses his life, music, and experiences in the theatre and in the folk music revival as well as with a series of issues concerning folk music, politics, history, language, art and other theoretical issues, offering a complete description of all the repertories of the British Isles. Peggy Seeger contributes a Foreword to the collection.
A freewheeling blend of continental European folk music and the songs, tunes, and dances of Anglo and Celtic immigrants, polkabilly has enthralled American musicians and dancers since the mid-19th century. From West Virginia coal camps and east Texas farms to the Canadian prairies and America's Upper Midwest, scores of groups have wed squeezeboxes with string bands, hoe downs with hambos, and sentimental Southern balladry with comic "up north" broken-English comedy, to create a new and uniquely American sound. The Goose Island Ramblers played as a house band for a local tavern in Madison, Wisconsin from the early 1960s through the mid-1970s. The group epitomized the polkabilly sound with their wild mixture of Norwegian fiddle tunes, Irish jigs, Slovenian polkas, Swiss yodels, old time hillbilly songs, "Scandihoovian" and "Dutchman" dialect ditties, frost-bitten Hawaiian marches, and novelty numbers on the electric toilet plunger. In this original study, James P. Leary illustrates how the Ramblers' multiethnic music combined both local and popular traditions, and how their eclectic repertoire challenges prevailing definitions of American folk music. He thus offers the first comprehensive examination of the Upper Midwest's folk musical traditions within the larger context of American life and culture. Impeccably researched, richly detailed and illustrated, and accompanied by a compact disc of interviews and performances, James P. Leary's Polkabilly: How the Goose Island Ramblers Redefined American Folk Music creates an unforgettable portrait of a polkabilly band and its world.
American folk music has provided a narrative thread to the fiber of the nation since its earliest days. Folk music scholar Norm Cohen presents a thorough exploration of the many ways in which folk music genres and subgenres have arisen in different regions of America. Chapters on folk song types, folk instrumentation, and the urban folk revival set further context to the discussion, and an itemized summary of noted folksong collections serves as an additional tool for both general readers and folk music scholars.

American folk music has provided a narrative thread to the fiber of the nation since its earliest days. Forms ranging from New England sea chanteys to Pennsylvania Dutch worksongs helped shape life in the Northeast. Appalachian ballads evolved in the South, as did slave spirituals that served as codes for the Underground Railroad. Folk ballads on lumbering and mining grew in the Midwest and Northwest, while cowboy ballads emerged across the Great Plains and the West, and railroad songs accompanied expansion along the American frontier. Folk music scholar Norm Cohen presents a thorough exploration of the many ways in which folk music genres and subgenres have arisen in different regions of America. Chapters on folk song types, folk instrumentation, and the urban folk revival set further context to the discussion, and an itemized summary of noted folksong collections serves as an additional tool for both general readers and folk music scholars.

The Greenwood Guide to American Roots Music series includes volumes on musical genres that have pervaded American culture. Each volume explores the different ways that selected genres, such as folk music, have evolved naturally in different regions and scenes thoughout the nation.

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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