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NYC’s Beatnik ‘riot’: How singing ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ kicked off the 60s revolution

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The protestors were peaceful. They didn’t look like revolutionaries. They were dressed in suits and ties. They were singing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

But the cops still attacked them with billy clubs.

In the spring of 1961, Israel (“Izzy”) Young taped a sign to the window of his shop in Greenwich Village, New York. The handwritten sign announced a protest rally at the fountain in Washington Square Park at 2pm on Sunday April 9th .

Izzy was the proprietor of the Folklore Center at 110 MacDougal Street, a shop that sold books, records and everything else relating to folk music. Since it opened in 1957, the Folklore Center had been the focal point for young folk singers, beatniks and assorted musicians to gather together, hang out, talk, play and listen to music.

After the Second World War, Greenwich Village was the gathering point for all the disaffected youth who wanted to escape the conformity and boredom of suburbia. They were brought by the district’s association with the Beats and jazz musicians who had lived and played there during the 1940s and early 1950s. Often their first point of call was Izzy’s shop. Among the many youngsters who visited there was a young Bob Dylan. Izzy arranged Dylan’s first concert at Carnegie Hall. He “broke [his] ass to get people to come.” Tickets were two bucks apiece. Only 52 people turned up—though later hundreds would tell Izzy they were there.
 
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Izzy Young in the Folklore Center circa 1960.
 
Since the late 1940s, folk musicians had gathered at the fountain in Washington Square Park. They brought their guitars and autoharps to play and sing songs. It was peaceable enough but some residents thought the Sunday gatherings brought “undesirables” to the neighborhood—by undesirables they meant African-Americans.

In April 1961, the new Commissioner of Parks Newbold Morris decided to take action. He banned singing in Washington Square Park. As Ted White later reported the events of that fateful day in the park in Rogue magazine, August 1961:

For seventeen years folksingers had been congregating on warm Sunday afternoons at the fountain in the center of the small park, unslinging their guitars and banjos and quietly singing songs. There would be a varied number of groups—perhaps ten or more—rimming the fountain, each singing a particular variety of folk music, from Negro work songs and blues to Kentucky hillbilly bluegrass, with perhaps an Elizabethan ballad from the West Virginia hills thrown in occasionally. As the years passed, the city government began showing an increasing hostility to the use of public facilities by the public, and for the last fourteen years, permits have been required before “public performances” could be given in any park. What this means is that a group of kids singing to each other on a weekday evening would be forcibly silenced by the ever-patrolling police for failing to possess a “permit,” or a young man playing a harmonica to himself quietly while sitting on a park bench might be suddenly ordered, “Move on, you!” and find himself run out of the park.

...

And now the new Parks Commissioner has refused a permit to the folksingers for their Sunday afternoon gatherings. Why? The same old story: “The folksingers have been bringing too many undesirable elements into the park.”

“Undesirable elements?” Yes, healthy young kids, racially mixed and unprejudiced enough not to care, concerned only with having the chance to assemble in the open sun and air and to be able to enjoy themselves harmlessly and happily. Sam Schwartz, a Brooklyn father, told me “Sure I let my kid—he’s a teenager—come and sing here. Why not? It’s a good, healthy activity. What’s wrong with folksongs?”

Ron Archer, a young jazz critic who lives in the West Village (an apparently less troubled area), said “Why shouldn’t people sing in the Square? If Morris is so concerned about the safety of the parks, why doesn’t he clean out the muggers and rapists in Central Park, where it isn’t safe to walk at night? Why doesn’t he go after the local punks who prowl the edges of this park at night? Why take after a group which is as harmless as the old men who play chess here, and who are just about as ’undesirable’?”

“You know what ’undesirable’ means, don’t you?” a name jazz musician told me. “It means ’Negro’. A few of the folksingers are Negroes.”

“I came up here from Mississippi,” says Bob Stewart, a Realist cartoonist who lives in the Village, “to get away from the prejudice, and now I get complaints from my landlord whenever I have a Negro friend up in my apartment.”

“The racial bias is definitely behind the whole thing,” Izzy summed it up. “It’s part of the big squeeze on the Italians.”

In response to the ban, Izzy applied for a permit to sing in the park. It was rejected. He therefore organized a protest rally.
 
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Izzy Young talks to a cop at the start of the demonstration.
 
On Sunday April 9th at 2pm, around 500 men and women—smartly dressed, some in suits and ties and carrying placards—peaceably approached the fountain at Washington Square Park. They were stopped by a cop. He wanted to know who was in charge. Izzy Young made his way to the front of the crowd and talked to the officer. He explained they were allowed to protest peaceably. It was within their constitutional rights to do so. The cop told Izzy they couldn’t sing, that singing was banned. They would be arrested if they broke the ban. Izzy countered by saying singing was a form of speech and they had a right to freedom of speech. He added:

It’s not up to Commissioner Morris to tell the people what kind of music is good or bad. He’s telling people folk music brings degenerates, but it’s not so.

The cops were not impressed. They began to move menacingly towards the demonstrators. Izzy thought if they started singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” the police would not hit them “on the head.” He was wrong. As the demonstrators sang the national anthem the cops started laying into them.
 
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Ten demonstrators were arrested. Dozens were injured. The press hyped the story up as a ‘Beatnik riot’ where some 3000 people attacked the cops. This story was quickly dropped as it was widely known not to be true.

Keep reading after the jump…

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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03.07.2016
02:13 pm
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Bernie nooooooo!!! Bernie Sanders released a pretty terrible spoken word folk music album in 1987
08.20.2015
11:27 am
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Cassette cover for Bernie’s album
 
Since Bernie Sanders announced his run for President of the United States of America, his lack of polish has been far more endearing to the public than his detractors ever imagined. He’s not a slick baby-kisser; the man talks serious social democratic policy and stays on message with a self-possessed intensity. However, if Bernie’s impersonal style has given the impression he’s completely devoid of sentimentality, “Brothers and Sisters,” let me assure you otherwise! In 1987, Bernie Sanders released a spoken word album of lefty folk standards, and it is bad—positively Shatneresque, if you will.

According to Vermont blog Seven Days, Burlington-based musician Todd Lockwood got in touch with Sanders out of the blue to pitch the idea—they had never met before. At this point Bernie was the Mayor of Burlington, so Lockwood just called the Mayor’s office and left a message with a secretary describing the project. To his surprise, Bernie set up a meeting, later telling Lockwood, “I have to admit to you this appeals to my ego.” Originally, Bernie was supposed to actually sing the songs, but they quickly realized he can’t carry a tune in a bucket, so they went with spoken word. You can hear samples of the results below; all I can say is that it’s good that he’s never run on anything but the issues, because he is not winning any votes with his musical talent.

If you’re just dying to hear the whole thing (for who doesn’t require a recording of an old Brooklyn Jew sternly intoning the words to “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”), you can actually purchase the entire album, We Shall Overcome, on Amazon.
 

 
Via Talking Points Memo

Posted by Amber Frost
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08.20.2015
11:27 am
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I Hate The Capitalist System: Barbara Dane, working class woman
07.08.2013
10:36 am
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Founded by folk-blues singer and political activist Barbara Dane and Irwin Silber, Paredon Records intended to use protest music and records to promote left-wing political activism, Feminist empowerment, labor unions, Third World issues, the plight of Vietnam, communism and cause social change.

For fifteen years, between 1970 and 1985, Dane—a popular San Francisco-based performer who sang with both Louis Armstrong on TV and Bob Dylan in his coffeehouse days—and Silber released 50 albums produced with great care that often included lengthy booklets with essays by noted experts. Some of their records contained speeches by the likes of Fidel Castro, Black Panther Huey Newton and Puerto Rican independence movement leader Albizu Campos.

In 1991, Dane and Silber donated the Paredon Records archive to the Smithsonian Institution. Some of the fiercest political music Barbara Dane herself recorded can be heard on her 1973 album I Hate the Capitalist System. Here’s the title track:
 

 

 
The lady don’t mince words and she refused to sell out. If Dane wanted a career at the top of the hit parade, with a voice like hers, she could have had it, but instead she chose to sing at union rallies and raised her voice for causes that were meaningful to her. Barbara Dane’s still going strong at 86. Here she is below with Louis Armstrong on CBS’s Timex All-Star Jazz Show hosted by Jackie Gleason on January 7, 1959
 

Posted by Richard Metzger
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07.08.2013
10:36 am
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The Holy Modal Rounders, live 1972
05.17.2011
12:07 pm
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Here’s something that doesn’t turn up often, nearly 30 minutes of vintage live concert footage of renegade psychedelic folkies, The Holy Modal Rounders:

A live concert in the Vondelpark in Amsterdam in the Summer of 1972. Shot by Videoheads who also organized the concert. The Holy Modal Rounders appeared frequently wherever the Grateful Dead were appearing. Electronically colorized using the Marcel Dupouy colorizer accesory for the Movicolor Video Synthesizer.

Courtesy of the fine folks at Videoheads, the same Dutch outfit who recently posted that amazing live footage of Mick Farren and the Deviants from 1969 on YouTube
 

 
Below, the trailer for the 2007 documentary on the Holy Modal Rounders, Bound to Lose.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger
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05.17.2011
12:07 pm
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