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May 13: Fred Hellerman and the Weavers

May 13, 2014
126937-050-2AD06197Fred Hellerman, guitarist, singer, songwriter, and co-founder of the Weavers with Pete Seeger, Lee Hays, and Ronnie Gilbert (also Jewish), was born in Brooklyn on this date in 1927. Hellerman taught himself to play guitar while serving with the Coast Guard during World War II, then became involved with People’s Songs, a progressive organization founded by Hays and Seeger. During the Thanksgiving weekend of 1948, the Weavers were formed to accompany folk dancers at a hootenanny. Their first song cycle was “Around the World,” a medley of international folk songs that would form a core part of their repertoire. Decca records signed them late in 1949, and their first single, with the Israeli song “Tzena, Tzena, Tzena” and Leadbelly’s “Goodnight Irene,” sold two million copies and made the Weavers into a top musical act. Within three years, however, they were pushed into the shadows by McCarthyism’s blacklist, but not before launching America’s folk music revival and leaving a legacy of harmony and audience-friendly music that formed the soundtrack for progressive America for decades. Hellerman continued to have a career as a songwriter (often with Fran Minkoff) for such artists as Tony Bennett, Harry Belafonte, and the Chad Mitchell Trio. He also produced Arlo Guthrie’s million-selling album, Alice’s Restaurant (1967), and served as the musical director for the film of that title. To see Hellerman and Seeger reuniting on “Frozen Logger” in 2010, look below (you can skip the ad in five seconds). To see the Weavers playing together in 1951, look below that. “If you can exist, and stay the course — not a course of blind obstinacy and faulty conception, but one of decency and good sense — you can outlast your enemies with your honor and integrity intact.” -Fred Hellerman