The Almanac Singers
were an early folk-type group formed in the 1940's
with Pete Seeger
, Lee Hays and later another Oklahoma Dust Bowl
refugee, Woody Guthrie
and Sis Cunningham (eventually, of BROADSIDE
They made up that name, because as they explained it, "folks owned only two books, the Bible and the Farmers' Almanac.
", one to get them through this world, the other for the next.
The duo of Pete Seeger that grew to a trio was clever they way they lulled potential audiences into expecting rubes, but they could sneek topicality into it with a socialist leaning into their terse lyrics, being some of the first music political commentators. This songs included early anti-war protesters at a time when that was not popular except with their progressive crowds like the American Youth Congress. They exposed Roosevelt song-wise in February of 1941 -at one of those meetings- too far to the right! They would bring their guitars and banjos to sites where blue collar types were, and before they left, these workers would be not only joining in the choruses, but the cause.
In the spring of 1941, they added Woody Guthrie, Alan Lomax' sister, Bess Hawes, and Sis Cunningham, but this group never all got together in the studio. They were more likely to be different combinations as a trio or quartet, and they would have guest stars such as Josh White, Burl Ives, Richard Dyer-Bennett and even Leadbelly join them.
Ironically the Communist Party, whose New York offices were near the original trio lived, thought the boys too liberated in thought, they invited them to play for them; and they were used by ultra liberal parties and unionists for fund raising.
In hindsight it is easy to be critical of such ideological naivete, but the poor at that time were especially downtrodden, and the far left sometimes seemed their only voice, and helped not hurt by the war against Fascists in the early forties as Communists seemed one of the forces fighting Nazis then.
Later in the spring of 1941 the first recordings with the collaboration of Alan Lomax, director Nicholas Ray, and record store owner Eric Bernay of the Keynote label was promoted by NBC's Joe Thompson. The theme in this historic and pioneering ensemble and their neutrality was evident on their Songs for John Doe, and strangely just after its release Germany attacked Russia, and they had to backtrack a wee bit. Bernay, who leaned to the left somewhat, also had arranged the Spirituals to Swing concert a few years before. ( A concert where the other backer, John Hammond, was too late in obtaining Robert Johnson's role, but brought Big Bill Broonzy.)
They were successful enough with this first release to follow it with Talking Union, one that angered the first family. By summer, their third endeavor was toned down, Sod Buster Ballads and Sea Chanties made into an extended play production. After a road trip to California some disarray developed in their philosophical cohesion, and Lampell and Guthrie left Seeger and Hays behind, joined by various others from time to time.
Back East what was left of them created Almanac houses, a place for like-minded folks to stay and play. Just before the Second World War, they had strange neutrality bed-fellows with isolationist Republicans, WWI
vets and the rest of the fringe tres gauche. Pearl Harbor
changed everything, now they, joined by Arthur Stern
in Hays' stead, actually did a February 1942 broadcast called This Is War
that caused such an acclaim that when the media investigated them for a potential story, their radical past had them dropped like a boiling rotten red potato.
They fell apart, and blackballed, they never re-formed until the fifties when they birthed the Weavers
. Of course, Seeger had to appear before the dreaded HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee
) in 1955.
We'll have a Hootenanny, Hootenanny Saturday night
We'll raise the roof and the rafters with song
Yell out your favorite, we'll sing it loud and strong
Come and bring your lady love along
We'll throw a Hootenanny, Hootenanny Saturday night
And if you think we'll be rowdy, you're right
We'll hoot and holler and raise almighty Cain
Every Saturday night!
They lived on through their version of the Scottish folk music Hoot'nanny, their "hootenanny" with the Kingston Trio
, Peter, Paul and Mary
, and Bob Dylan
, thanks to Woody. Because Seeger was blacklisted in March. But,in March 1963, making Seeger mad they took this term they'd used, ABC had a folk music show called Hootenanny
featuring hundreds of college age young adults sitting around listening to folk musicians. Some were able to play the Almanac Singers three dozen songs, and now especially made famous by the Beach Boys
, Sloop John B
. Jack Linkletter (Art Linkletter
's son) hosted the music show and was taped at different campuses. In an article," Hootenany
THE ORIGINAL 'UNPLUGGED'"
by Michael J. Hayde, he recalls:
In the hopes of filling that hour with more stars, the network offered to drop the Seeger blacklist, provided he sign "a loyalty oath." After his temperature cooled to under 100, Seeger turned them down and his manager made the story public. The news caused even more artists to join the boycott and that, unfortunately, killed the show. To fill time, "Hootenanny" went beyond folk music to include stars of jazz and country, and each show featured a young stand-up comic such as Bill Cosby or Woody Allen.
Its half hour show with four music segments, was a big hit that year, alas, a year later, with Rock and Roll taking the stage, it faded away and off the air.
Another article on, 'The 60's Official Site adds this important information:
Source: Broadside Vol 1 1965
Although Seeger and the Weavers were also banned from NBC and CBS variety shows, the Hootenanny issue rankled because Seeger and his long-time associate Woody Guthrie were the first to popularize the term ‘hootenanny’ as a gathering of folk musicians.
To his credit, Seeger encouraged his fellow artists not to boycott but to accept Hootenanny invitations, so as to promote the popularity of the folk genre. Nevertheless, by the end of March three other folk acts had joined Joan Baez in boycotting the show: Tom Paxton, Barbara Dane and The Greenbriar Boys, a bluegrass trio. Some weeks later, Guthrie disciple Ramblin' Jack Elliot announced he, too, was boycotting Hootenanny.