This is a guest post by archivist Todd Harvey, the acquisitions coordinator at the American Folklife Center.
Let’s imagine it is the summer of 1962 and you are 20, bursting at the seams with the songs of Joan Baez. She will be on the cover of Time magazine in a few months and her LP Joan Baez, Vol. 2 provides the soundtrack for many a dorm room party and coffee shop conversation. Your guitar chops are good enough that everyone says, “You must go to New York, not Cambridge. That is the scene.”
You arrive in Greenwich Village, MacDougal Street, with a single destination in mind: Izzy Young’s Folklore Center. Why? Because it was the nexus of the folk music revival in New York City. Down the block from the Café Wha, the Gaslight, and the Kettle of Fish, the Folklore Center provided a ready stream of contact with musicians, strings, instruments, reading, and listening. At the counter sat Izzy, at once proprietor and chronicler.
In December 2015 the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress acquired the Israel Young collection (AFC 2015/040), a lifetime assemblage of scrapbooks, correspondence, sound recordings, and photographs. And the journals: researchers can now access half a century of Izzy’s daily observations about the world he inhabited, and not just the folk music scene but related topics such as politics, folk dance, moving to Sweden, growing older.
Already American Folklife Center researchers can vicariously experience the folk music revival through the work of key individuals such as Alan Lomax, John Cohen, Bess Lomax Hawes, Pete Seeger, Oscar Brand, and Jean Ritchie, as well as the materials associated with institutions such as the Indian Neck Folk Festival, Caffè Lena, and the New York Pinewoods Folk Music Club. As always, the combined corpus engenders greater potential than the individual collections, and with the addition of Izzy’s materials these collections have a new center of gravity.
As processing archivist Maya Lerman mentioned in her January 21 Folklife Today post, we are happily engaged in the task of unpacking the collection. Last week, Maya and I—as acquisitions coordinator—took part in an “new collections” exhibit for Library of Congress staff, and our feature was the Izzy Young collection. We chose to display his 1962 journal because it documents the folk music revival on the cusp of national prominence.
Some journal entries engender questions. Do you want to know what Izzy thought of Albert Grossman, flush with his early success managing the trio Peter, Paul and Mary? “August 8, 1962. I’m leaving for Canada, in a few hours, with Al Grossman. People are always telling me that he is a sharp dealer but I like him and trust him.” The Bear, as he became known, was a controversial figure who soon took on Bob Dylan as a client. One wonders what Izzy’s entry about Grossman from the 1965 Newport Folk Festival contains.
Some journal entries are purely informational. “July 19, 1962: Archie Green spent a few days in town at John Cohen’s place. He visited Bob Shelton, Dave Van Ronk, Moe Asch (who may put out an album of wobbly songs and one of textile songs). Herbert Halpert teaches at NYU for the summer. He was bewildered by all the modern interest in folk music. Kenny Goldstein was in town to pick up some Woody Guthrie tapes. Bob Dylan is in town. Tom Paley is MC at Folk City. The Tarriers are recording live at the Bitter End tonight. Had supper two nights running with Eric Weissberg. John Winn is back in town. Tom Paxton sings at the Gaslight. Ian and Sylvia are in.”
These are fragments from a few pages in a single journal, yet they provide a wealth of primary source material for a much-discussed period in American cultural history. Izzy was there at the counter of the Folklore Center, a broad smile greeting you. “In from out of town? Joanie Baez fan? Go down to the Gaslight and talk to Tom Paxton. Oh, here he comes now!”