1880, Clay County, Kentucky. With a name as loaded as Mary Magdalene Garland
Mills Stewart Jackson Stamos, the woman who bore it would have to be equally powerful. Otherwise known as Aunt Molly Jackson, she was a loud voice for the working people, particularly the coal miners, and she desperately fought for unions and people’s rights. Singing her heart out to whomever she could, Aunt Molly never let her laboring Kentuckians be forgotten.
Aunt Molly was born into a world of unions and working men. Her father opened a grocery store for miners when she was just three, but failing to pay back their credit, the store was shut down two years later and he was sent to the coal mines. When she was six, her mother died from tuberculosis. As if this were not tragic enough, little Mary Garland was sent to jail at ten... Read More
Aunt Molly Jackson - Ragged Hungry Blues (Pt.1)
Aunt Molly Jackson - Ragged Hungry Blues (Pt.2)
1930, Birmingham Alabama. Born in the south but growing up in Los Angeles, Californ
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ia, this (eventual) folk singer started off differently than the others did. Odetta Holmes was not an ex-con, or blind, or did any hard travelin’. In fact, she had had operatic training at the tender age of 13. Odetta’s powerful voice and stage presence was long lasting during the folk movement and the civil rights movement, as well as today.
Being a large African-American woman, she was doubtful she could ever sing at the Metropolitan Opera, no matter how great her voice. At 14, she became a member of Turnabout Puppet Theatre, which featured a puppet show for the first half and a stage revue for the other half (regularly sold out with Hollywood celebrities coming and going). In 1949, she joined the touring company of... Read More
Odetta - Alabama Bound
Odetta - Santy Anno
1918, Wilmington, Delaware. So far, the folk legends we met have been
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what we expected. Grungy looking, ragged freight hoppers who didn’t really have the kind of voices you’d write home about. And then along comes Cisco Houston. Tall, extremely handsome, even donning a mustache (and wearing it well). But then he opens his mouth to sing, and he is good. He croons with such smoothness that one would wonder how he could ever harmonize with Woody Guthrie.
Cisco, despite his John Wayne good looks and heartwarming voice, was not spared
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from his own tragedies. Born in Delaware as Gilbert Vandine Houston, his family up and moved to California when he was still young. He decided to change his name when he visited the small town, Cisco, California. He was an extremely bright kid,... Read More
Cisco Houston - Deportees
1888, Mooringsport, Louisiana. We made it to see the single most infl
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uential singer in the folk world. Bigger than Guthrie and Seeger. Hell, this man influenced them. I cannot stress enough the importance of his writing, singing, activism, and just plain talent on music in general. But I guess I’ll try.
Hudy Ledbetter (or Huddy, or Leadbelly, or Lead Belly), knew what a hard road felt like. Growing up in a time and place where it was practically criminal to be African American, he had numerous run ins with the law (probably due to his short temper). Music was so important to him that while in prison for murder, he would sing to the guards and other inmates. Eventually, after writing a song for the governor for his appeal, the governor let him free. Did you read that right? He let a murderer free, and after... Read More
Lead Belly - Goodnight Irene
1919, Manhattan, New York. Little Pete Seeger
was born to two musicians, Charles Louis Seeger Jr., a composer and ethnomusicologist, and Constance de Clyver Edson, a violin teacher who ultimately left her family for her career. Seeger and his many siblings were raised by their father, (an amazing feat for that era, if you ask me) and they grew up playing instruments and singing together. It was in his youth that Pete decided to learn how to play the ukulele, and later the banjo. He hasn’t put it down since.
Pete Seeger, one of the most influential and outspoken folk singers of the twentieth century, went to Harvard University. It was there that he joined the Communist party, sang his heart out, and eventually left both. He took a job with Alan Lomax, a man who I will get to later with great zeal, sifting... Read More
Pete Seeger - Waist Deep In The Big Muddy
1912, Okemeh, Oklahoma. Named after Woodrow Wilson, Woody Guthrie was highly influenced by his parents, especially his mother, when it came to music. For those of you that don’t know, growing up in this time and place was hell. The Dust Bowl hit Oklahoma and the rest of the Great Plains states (and even some of the northeast states like New York) extremely hard. Many, many people died from what was called dust pneumonia. The ones who did not succumb either fled or stuck it out. Woody was one of the ones who fled to California support his family. He had to hitch hike, train hop, and walk his way–but he made it. And the whole way there he was singing, strumming, and gaining more and more freedom. The Dust Bowl did not kill him, rather it gave him the inspiration he needed, and the motivation to give to others.
Arriving... Read More
Woody Guthrie - This Land Is Your Land