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Guy Carawan

Born July 27, 1927, Los Angeles, California, author, multi-instrumental folksinger and civil rights protest activist GUY CARAWAN, has been on the fringes of folk stardom since his visit to the Highlander Research and Education Center in New Market, Tennessee, in 1953; he’s since become its music director, giving access to many folklorists.
Developing his style on a visit to Britain, Guy delivered a couple of inaugural releases outside his homeland, a single for Pye Nixa: `Old Man Atom (Talking Atomic Blues)’ and for Topic Records: his debut album, MOUNTAIN SONGS AND BANJO TUNES (1958) {*6}. It’d be fair to say that these efforts were pretty low-key, as were subsequent Folkways sets SONGS WITH GUY CARAWAN (1958) {*6}, WE SING AMERICA AT PLAY: FOLK SONGS FROM THE SOUTHERN APPALACHIAN MOUNTAINS (1959) {*5} with PEGGY SEEGER, GUY CARAWAN SINGS: SOMETHING OLD, NEW, BORROWED AND BLUE (1959) {*6}, THIS LITTLE LIGHT OF MINE (1959) {*7}, THE NASHVILLE SIT-IN STORY (1960) {*6} and WE SHALL OVERCOME: Songs of the “Freedom Riders” and the “Sit-Ins” (1961) {*7} with Various Artists, all purveyors of the deep South (Carolina and Tennessee); great songs from that time included `Sinner Man’, `Lonesome Traveller’, `Cumberland Gap’ (with Peggy S), `Sail Away Ladies’, `Kicking Mule’ and `Pretty Saro’.
Concentrating on his civil rights mission (with wife Candie), the rest of the 60s were not quite so prolific, CARAWAN producing and editing an array of worldly artists that ranged from miner George Tucker to HAZEL DICKENS. One of Guy’s greatest achievements was undoubtably the 1967 production BEEN IN THE STORM SO LONG {*8}, a record that depicted spirituals, folk tales and children’s games from John’s Island, South Carolina. Here were preserved Negro and slave cultures and sermons saved from a time long gone, but recorded for posterity in the 60s; `Mr. Postman Die’, `Ezekial In The Valley’ and the title track come off best.
The 70s and 80s found CARAWAN releasing albums with singer wife Candie and guitarist son Evan respectively; three solo LPs in particular, THE TELLING TAKES ME HOME (1972) {*6}, GREEN ROCKY ROAD (1977) {*6} and JUBILEE (1979) {*5}, came off reasonably well. Signed to Flying Fish Records, the aforementioned Evan was credited on Appalachian & Irish Tunes on HAMMER DULCIMER (1984) {*7}, while Candie appeared on THE LAND KNOWS YOU’RE THERE (1986) {*6}. On the former set, the two CARAWANs struck proverbial gold by way of traditional fare such as `Flop Eared Mule’, `Toss The Feathers’ and `Planxty Irwin’, a delightful old-timey record. 1990s solo TREE OF LIFE {*6} drew in songs from SARAH McLACHLAN/CHRIS SMITHER (`Hold On’), JEAN RITCHIE (`The L&N Don’t Stop Here Anymore’), Pat & Victoria Garvey (`The Trail Of Tears’) and a couple of trad cues, `The Parting Song’ and `The Yellow Rose Of Texas’; The CARAWAN Family recorded HOMEBREW (1992) {*5}, while you can find Guy’s books (Sing For Freedom, Ain’t You Got A Right To The Tree Of Life? and Voices From The Mountain) on the couple’s website.
Sadly, at his home in New Market, Tennessee, Guy passed away on May 2, 2015.
© MC Strong 2010/GFD // rev-up MCS Jun2015

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