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More Treasures from the Izzy Young Collection

This is a guest post by Maya Lerman, processing archivist at the American Folklife Center. She is writing occasional guest posts as she makes discoveries during the processing of the Izzy Young Collection.  Her first post on the collection can be found here.

Image03The Izzy Young Collection documents the folk revival of the late 1950s and 1960s through the eyes of Israel Goodman Young, founder and proprietor of the Folklore Center, and later, the Folklore Centrum. As my colleague, Todd Harvey, described in his March 8 Folklife Today post, The Folklore Center in Greenwich Village was a hub for a thriving and diverse world of musicians, poets, and artists. In November 2015 the American Folklife Center acquired Izzy Young’s collection, including Izzy’s manuscripts, journals, scrapbooks, photographs, and recordings. These unique items paint a picture of the rich folk music scene across time from the perspective of someone deeply embedded in its culture. The materials also document the folk scene in Stockholm, Sweden, where Izzy emigrated in 1973, continuing his work in folk music and dance.

 

Image02The folk revival was in full force by the late 1950s, with musicians and poets performing at coffeehouses, hootenannies, and college campuses around the country. Izzy Young was instrumental in coordinating and planning concerts and other performances in this genre at the Folklore Center, a fixture of Greenwich Village’s MacDougal Street, and at other venues in New York City. Many associate Izzy with organizing Bob Dylan’s first official concert in 1961 at Carnegie Chapter Hall. Tickets were $2 and 53 people attended. But some may not be aware of the diversity of performances that Izzy programmed or the variety of performance venues that he used. While arranging Izzy’s scrapbooks, journals, and ephemera, I’ve come across event calendars from the Folklore Center and fliers for performances he arranged both at his store and in other New York venues. These often include original artwork from unidentified artists. If anyone recognizes the artwork of a particular artist, feel free to let us know in a comment below.

Here are some examples from the collection that illustrate the variety and the frequency of Izzy’s events:

A program from 1965 lists the poems from a Spanish language poetry reading at the Folklore Center by theater actors and directors, Pedro Santaliz Avila and Lazaro Perez. This “Recital de Poesia Hispanoamericana,” highlighted poetry from Latin American countries including Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, Cuba, Chile, and Peru.

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In a Folklore Center schedule from 1967, blues guitarist Spider John Koerner was booked for February 27, poet Ted Berrigan for March 5, and songwriter Tim Buckley for March 6. Izzy left placeholders for performers he hadn’t booked yet. Next to the listing for Ted Berrigan’s performance date, there was also a calendar slot left open for an “Equal Guest.” Interspersed among the concerts were poetry readings that occurred at the Folklore Center multiple times in a week.

A Folklore Center flier drawn from one of Izzy’s scrapbooks from 1969 listed the improvisational jazz group, the Burton Greene Jazz Quartet scheduled for February 22, blues musician John Hammond, Jr. for February 24, and country music singer-songwriter Jerry Jeff Walker for March 1. A later 1969 calendar reveals rock multi-instrumentalist Buzz Linhart on May 19 (flier in scrapbook), folk duo Happy and Artie Traum for May 23, and singer-songwriters Paul Siebel and Gary White for May 26.

Image04As one of the founders of the Friends of Old Time Music (FOTM), Izzy collaborated with John Cohen and Ralph Rinzler to bring traditional American musicians to New York City audiences for the first time. The group organized fourteen concerts from 1961-1965 featuring performers from mostly rural regions of the Southern US, many of whom were at the cusp of national recognition. Among the artists were Mississippi John Hurt, Doc Watson, Roscoe Holcomb, the Stanley Brothers, and Bill Monroe. They programmed these concerts at such venues as the NYU School of Education, the New School, and Town Hall.

His writings and notes also express an indifference to the economics of putting on concerts. From his 1969 “Concerts” journal, Izzy writes, “The cost of the concerts is mostly in the Newsletter – but soon ads will also be necessary so I take total income from concerts and subtract costs and arrive at “profit.” If I break even on the newsletter I am happy. The “profit” from the poetry readings is really next to zero – but it is an extra luxury allowed by the fact I send out a newsletter and so it is only my free time in question.”

 

The following examples capture Izzy’s informal accounting approach:

Sept. 8, 1969
Mike Seeger concert
108 paid @ $2.00 = $216
Artist fee: $95
Sound: $10
Hall: $25
“Profit:” $86
Visitors: Rosalie Sorrels, David Rea, Artie Rose, Jon Sholle, George Sprung, Lee Hoffman.
Recorded by Ray Alden on Ampex.

[In this case, Izzy kept track of important visitors to the concerts and the recording engineer.]

Sept. 10, 1969
Ray Bierl concert
15 paid @ $1.50 = $22.50
Artist fee: $20.00
“Profit:” $2.50
Visitors: Jean Ritchie, Happy Traum, John Wilcox, Rosalie Sorrels (who all sang), Don & Estelle Wade, and Michael Loughlin.
Reviewed in [NY] Times 9/11/1969.

Sept. 15, 1969
Libba Cotten [Elizabeth Cotten] concert
110 tickets @ $2.00 = $220.00
Village Voice Ad: $13.50
Sound System: $10
Artist fee: $110
Rent: $25
“Profit:” $61.50

See more examples in the pages below.
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These entries make it clear that Izzy was not becoming rich off the folk boom!  In fact, Izzy’s journals and manuscripts reveal a pure love for gathering people together to listen to music or hear poetry, which makes it even more of an honor to take care of the resulting collection.

4 Comments

  1. fred o’regan
    August 26, 2016 at 11:31 am

    This is important stuff– it may not look that important at first glance but for posterity it is a treasure.
    Can the exhibits be viewed?

  2. Philip Ratcliffe
    August 26, 2016 at 4:19 pm

    I’m interested in anything related to Mississippi John Hurt, having written his biography.

  3. Ramblin’ Dan Stevens
    August 27, 2016 at 9:52 am

    I was a teenager in Central PA when I first started to play the guitar and became aware of the Folklore Center.. I didn’t know that NYC was a place you could actually go to and that all this was accessible.. Wish I had been mature and self aware enough but this collection is a great insight into the inner workings of that great scene.. I later was fortunate enough to take guitar lessons from Dave Van Ronk and have started with my wife a non profit in Old Lyme CT called MusicNow with a small venue called Nightingale’s Acoustic Cafe of which the Folklore Center is the great grandfather. Thanks for preserving this important piece of the history of American music.
    Dan Stevens

  4. Gilli
    August 27, 2016 at 3:17 pm

    Go Izzy! This is fascinating…

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