Roots of the Revival

Roots of the Revival: American and British Folk Music in the 1950s

RONALD D. COHEN
RACHEL CLARE DONALDSON
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 216
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5406/j.ctt6wr5hf
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  • Book Info
    Roots of the Revival
    Book Description:

    In Roots of the Revival: American and British Folk Music in the 1950s , Ronald D. Cohen and Rachel Clare Donaldson present a transatlantic history of folk's midcentury resurgence that juxtaposes the related but distinct revivals that took place in the United States and Great Britain. After setting the stage with the work of music collectors in the nineteenth century, the authors explore the so-called recovery of folk music practices and performers by Alan Lomax and others, including journeys to and within the British Isles that allowed artists and folk music advocates to absorb native forms and facilitate the music's transatlantic exchange. Cohen and Donaldson place the musical and cultural connections of the twin revivals within the decade's social and musical milieu and grapple with the performers' leftist political agendas and artistic challenges, including the fierce debates over "authenticity" in practice and repertoire that erupted when artists like Harry Belafonte and the Kingston Trio carried folk into the popular music mainstream. From mountain ballets to skiffle, from the Weavers in Greenwich Village to Burl Ives on the BBC, Roots of the Revival offers a frank and wide-ranging consideration of a time, a movement, and a transformative period in American and British pop culture.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09642-6
    Subjects: Music, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-4)

    The accepted wisdom is that the period between the commercial success of the Weavers in the early 1950s and the explosion of the Kingston Trio in 1958 was rather a dead zone for popular folk music in the United States. “In the 1950s, a burgeoning commercial folk revival was stamped out by the anticommunism hysteria,” the folk journalist Scott Alarik has explained inRevival: A Folk Music Novel. Certainly the anticommunist movement had a chilling effect, but not to such an extent.¹

    Folk music was only a small part of the cultural and social explosion during the 1950s, a complex...

  5. 1 Background in the United States and Great Britain to 1950
    (pp. 5-24)

    Folk music has had many definitions and incarnations throughout the twentieth century in the United States and Great Britain. The public has been most aware of its commercial substance and appeal, with the focus on recording artists and their repertoires, but there has been so much more, including a political agenda, folklore theories, grassroots styles, regional promoters, and discussions on what musical forms—blues, hillbilly, gospel, Anglo-Saxon, pop, singer-songwriters, instrumental and/or vocal, international—should be included. These contrasting and conflicting interpretations were particularly evident during the 1950s.

    Alan Lomax (1915–2002) began his career as a music collector on a...

  6. 2 The Weavers and the Resurgence of Folk Music, 1950–1953
    (pp. 25-50)

    World War II ended in August 1945 after six years of bloody warfare, the devastation of much of Europe and Asia, more than fifty million deaths and injuries, with millions of civilians displaced and homeless. The Soviet Union alone lost twenty-four million of its citizens. The United States, on the other hand, emerged relatively physically unscathed, with roughly four hundred thousand military deaths, and perhaps twice as many wounded. There was practically no unemployment and a pent-up thirst for new houses and products. There was great optimism about the future, notwithstanding some lurking fears about the advent of a nuclear...

  7. 3 Blacklisting and Folk Developments, 1953–1954
    (pp. 51-70)

    “Around 1953 Folkways Records put out a six-LP set called theAnthology of American Folk Music, culled from commercial recordings of traditional rural musicians that had been made in the South during the 1920s and ’30s,” the Greenwich Village musician Dave Van Ronk would explain.¹ “TheAnthologywas created by a man named Harry Smith, who was a beatnik eccentric artist, and experimental filmmaker, and a disciple of Aleister Crowley…. Harry had a fantastic collection of 78s, and his idea was to provide an overview of the range of styles being played in rural America at the dawn of recording....

  8. 4 Popular Folk Music Comes of Age, 1955–1956
    (pp. 71-92)

    The British interest in American folk and country music stretched to a small group of record collectors who formed the Hillbilly-Folk Record Collectors’ Club and launched the quarterlyHillbilly-Folk Record Journalin early 1954, which lasted until 1957, when the name changed toFolk Style. The first issue was dedicated to Jimmie Rodgers, the second to Hank Williams. Each issue included a variety of feature articles, discographies, news items, and record company information. A drawing of Lead Belly graced the cover of issue number 3, followed by a short biography. While all the issues would focus on Americans, with a...

  9. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  10. 5 Further Developments, 1957–1958
    (pp. 93-114)

    The stifling hand of anticommunism had not lifted from popular culture—movies, radio programs, folk music—but the latter was definitely feeling a quickening pulse throughout the country. Then the Kingston Trio emerged to energize the folk revival. Nick Reynolds was born in Coronado, California, on July 27, 1933, the son of a Navy captain and a wealthy mother. He began singing at an early age and listened to a range of musical styles, including Mariachi music in Tijuana and the records of Augie Goupil and His Royal Tahitians. He played a Martin 0–18 tenor guitar, along with conga...

  11. 6 The Decade Ends, 1959–1960
    (pp. 115-152)

    On April 3,1959, Alan Lomax, along with the labor union and concert organizer Lou Gordon, produced the wide-ranging “Folksong: ’59” concert, subtitled “A Panorama of the Contemporary American Folk Song Revival,” at Carnegie Hall. “He had been impressed on his return [from England], Mr. Lomax said, to find ‘war whoops coming out of juke boxes that I used to have to go down to Mississippi to record,’” according to theNew York Times. “Americans, he declared, have always been ashamed of the way they expressed themselves. ‘The time has come for Americans not to be ashamed of what we go...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 153-174)
  13. Index
    (pp. 175-182)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 183-194)