Civil Rights in Song (5): the Politics of the Folk Revival, and the story of Josh White

RGS History

800px-Josh_White,_Café_Society_(Downtown),_New_York,_N.Y.,_ca._June_1946_(William_P._Gottlieb_09091)The day Martin Luther King stood by the Lincoln Memorial and spoke of his dream, also saw some of the great luminaries of the folk music scene of the day. Among those performing were someone most people have probably heard of: Bob Dylan.  I suspect very few have heard of Josh White. But, White’s story, and the story of America’s folk revival, gives us a slice of American social, political and cultural history. It takes us from the dust bowl to New York City, from the White House to the HUAC.

Cover_of_Francis_James_Child's_''English_and_Scottish_Popular_Ballads''Interest in the traditional music of Europe and America was hardly new. In the later part of the 19th century, James Francis Child was a Harvard academic: he wrote one of the most important studies of Chaucer, for example. What he is perhaps best remembered for is his collection of 305 traditional English and Scottish folk songs, colloquially…

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