From Washington Square Park and the Gaslight Cafe (c) to WNYC Radio and Folkways Records, New York City's cultural, artistic, and commercial assets helped to shape a distinctively urban breeding ground for the famous folk music revival of the 1950s and '60s.
Folk City, by Stephen Petrus and Ronald Cohen, explores New York's central role in fueling the nationwide craze for folk music in postwar America. The musical form blossomed particularly in Greenwich Village, the famed neighborhood that had long nurtured unconventional art, progressive politics, and countercultural trends. But the phenomenon was not inevitable. After all, folk music was largely rural in origins, the songs of peasants in the Old World and then of sailors, cowboys,
lumberjacks, coal miners, chain gangs, and others across the United States. How it became urban and modern is a fascinating story, one that involves the efforts of record company producers and executives, club owners, concert promoters, festival organizers, musicologists, agents and managers, editors and
writers-not to mention the musicians and their audiences.
In this account, Petrus and Cohen capture the exuberance of the times and introduce readers to a host of characters who brought a new style to the biggest audience in the history of popular music. Among the savvy New York entrepreneurs committed to promoting folk music were Izzy Young of the Folklore Center, Mike Porco of Gerde's Folk City, and John Hammond of Columbia Records. While these and other businessmen developed commercial networks for musicians, the performance venues provided the
artists spaces to test their mettle. The authors portray Village coffee houses not simply as lively venues but as incubators of a burgeoning counterculture, where artists from diverse backgrounds honed their performance techniques and challenged social convention in the era of Eisenhower, Kennedy, and
Accessible and engaging, fresh and provocative, rich in anecdotes, interviews, excerpts from memoirs, biographical sidebars, and primary sources, Folk City is lavishly illustrated with images collected for the accompanying major exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York in 2015.