American songwriter (1900-1978) of such folks songs as "Little Boxes," "Magic Penny," and "What Have They Done to the Rain?". Her songs have been covered by Pete Seeger, Harry Belafonte, Joan Baez, the Limeliters, Judy Collins, Marianne Faithfull, and others.

Born Malvina Milder to Jewish socialist immigrant parents in San Francisco. She was refused her diploma by Lowell High School because her parents were opposed to US participation in World War I. She entered UC Berkeley anyway, and received a doctorate in 1936. She married William Reynolds, a carpenter and organizer, in 1934 and had one child, Nancy, in 1935. Being Jewish, socialist, and a woman in the Great Depression, she could not find a job teaching at the college level. She became a social worker and a columnist for the People's World and, during World War II, an assembly-line worker at a bomb factory. Later she and her husband took over her parents' naval tailor shop in Long Beach, California. There in the late 1940s she met Earl Robinson, Pete Seeger and other folk singers and songwriters and began writing songs:

When folk music came to the front, I knew that was where I belonged. Here was my head full of poetry and music and everything I thought came together in song. And because my thinking was political and social, many of my songs had that character.
Like many folk singers of the 1960s, she took her inspiration from the headlines of the time, writing songs about women's rights, workers' rights, social justice, and the environmental crisis. She recorded songs on her own label, Cassandra records, as well as Folkways and Columbia Records. As a musician, she toured Scandinavia, England, and Japan. When she wasn't singing, she published her own zine, the Sporadic Times. Works available on CD:
  • Ear to the Ground, Topical Songs 1960-1978, Smithsonian Folkways 40124.
  • Another Country Heard From (1960) Folkways 2524.
Three of her children's tapes and two of her LPs are available from her daughter, Nancy Schimmel, at
In 1976 Malvina Reynolds wrote her epitaph, remarking that "It's a bit early for (it), but I've made a resolution to get things done on time and not wait till the last minute."


      Celebrate my death for the good times I've had,
      For the work that I've done and the friends that I've made,
      Celebrate my death, of whom it could be said,
      “She was a working class woman, and a red.”

      My man was the best, a comrade and a friend,
      Fighting on the good side to the very end,
      My child was a darling, merry, strong and fine,
      And all the world's children were mine.

She died two years later, on March 17, 1978, at the age of 77. Her music, however, lived on. In 1998 her daughter Nancy Schimmel and Judy Fjell performed a set of Malvina's work for half of Judy Fjell's concert at the Forks Theater in Ukiah, and Nancy Spencer, Lisa Spencer, Crystal Reeves and Pam Bellutini put together a tribute concert perforing her songs to benefit Peace House and the Malvina biography project.

Ellen Stekert, folklorist and English professor at the University of Minnesota, was a friend of Malvina and Bud Reynolds', and did years of research and interviews toward a biography of Malvina, assisted by the San Francisco Folk Music Center and Malvina's assistant Ruth Pohlman, who raised tens of thousands of dollars in donations toward the project.

She wrote inspired and down-to-earth children's songs, both on her own as well as for Sesame Street in later years. In further tribute to this amazing activist/singer/songwriter, the Children's Music Network created the Magic Penny Award, named after one of Malvina Reynolds' songs. It is given to people who dedicate their lives to empowering children through music, although Malvina herself noted that she did not think of herself primarily as a children's songwriter.

"In fact, I tend to avoid that title, because the first thought is, you know, this nice old grandma who makes cookies and sings for kids, and that's not my character at all. I have a very acid edge toward many aspects of modern life, and I'm pretty outspoken about it."
But Malvina always emphasized that her cutting edge was there because she cared about people, because she cared about kids, that she thought the world was stealing children's natural environment,
"and much more than that—the natural progression of their tradition—and leaving them stripped, uneasy, uncomfortable, and in deep trouble...."
She dedicated her life to giving people, musically, some of the tools that are needed to heal that damage.

  • features guitar chords for Little Boxes, later covered by Pete Seeger;
  • features an excellent biography of her;
  • also has a short biography and a more in-depth look at several of her songs.

    This writeup has been CST Approved.

  • Omni Recording Corporation in Australia has issued CD versions of two of Malvina's LPs: "Malvina Reynolds" (Omni 112) first issued by Century City in 1971, and "Malvina Reynolds Sings the Truth" (Omni 114) first issued by Columbia Records in 1967. Both have ample booklets with well-done graphics, both have many bonus tracks, some of never-before-issued songs.

    I'm Malvina's daughter and I've taken over the writing of her biography based on my own memories and the research done by Ellen Stekert (who is unable to write it due to health reasons).

    Charles Smith, a librarian at Western Kentucky University, has put up a Malvina lyrics site which I recommend. It has a discography and lyrics to over 300 songs written by Malvina.

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