Singing Out: An Oral History of America's Folk Music Revivals

Singing Out: An Oral History of America's Folk Music Revivals

Singing Out: An Oral History of America's Folk Music Revivals

Singing Out: An Oral History of America's Folk Music Revivals


Intimate, anecdotal, and spell-binding, Singing Out offers a fascinating oral history of the North American folk music revivals and folk music. Culled from more than 150 interviews recorded from 1976 to 2006, this captivating story spans seven decades and cuts across a wide swath of generations and perspectives, shedding light on the musical, political, and social aspects of this movement. The narrators highlight many of the major folk revival figures, including Pete Seeger, Bernice Reagon, Phil Ochs, Mary Travers, Don McLean, Judy Collins, Arlo Guthrie, Ry Cooder, and Holly Near. Together they tell the stories of such musical groups as the Composers' Collective, the Almanac Singers, People's Songs, the Weavers, the New Lost City Ramblers, and the Freedom Singers. Folklorists, musicians, musicologists, writers, activists, and aficionados reveal not only what happened during the folk revivals, but what it meant to those personally and passionately involved. For everyone who ever picked up a guitar, fiddle, or banjo, this will be a book to give and cherish. Extensive notes, bibliography, and discography, plus a photo section.


Pete Seeger

Singing Out is a story of the links in what I think of as one of the world’s most important chains, namely the chain of people’s singers. I’m proud to be one of these links; I hope there are many more links to come. I’m glad there’s a book about such links.

People give me too much credit because they’ve heard me. They don’t know about people like Alan Lomax, or Woody Guthrie, and a whole lot of other people. Not to speak of Francis Child, or Cecil Sharp, and so on. And my father. I just happen to be the link that they’ve heard of, so they think I’m the daddy of it all. Of course this is not true. I look upon Woody Guthrie and Lead Belly, and Phil Ochs, and Bob Dylan, and countless lesser known people as more links in this chain. I look upon poet Taras Shevchenko of the Ukraine, and that fellow in Paris back in the thirteenth century—the Romantic poet, who lived with the lowlifes of Paris, with the cutthroats, and thieves—François Villon. We’re all part of this chain. People who use poems and songs to help turn people’s heads around. In one way or another. I’m still working on it in a thousand ways, and I hope this book can be a contribution to it. I think that songwriting and singing as an art form have generally been looked down on more than they should be.

People think, well the symphony’s on a high plane; the novel’s on a high plane; but I quote Béla Bartók, who said, “A song is just a short form that’s on just as high a plane of art as anything else.” And I’d like to encourage more people to be songwriters. I’d like it if everybody in the world thought of singing and songwriting as part of their life, just as much as cooking or eating, or tossing a baseball, or swimming. It’s something creative you do with words and tunes and friends.

I decided I would be a musician in 1940, when I came back from that summer having supported myself singing in saloons. I’d spent the whole summer. I’d hitchhiked around, came back in good health. I hadn’t had to write home for money, or to telephone home from jail. (Slept in a couple of jails.) I decided Alan Lomax was right: maybe I’d better stick with music. I was really enjoying it. I knew I’d never starve as long as I could pick a banjo. It was quite a victory.

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