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October 31: Tom Paxton (Corrected by Readers: He’s Not Jewish)

October 31, 2014
Tom-Paxton-Ramblin-Boy-514281But he is terrific. Folksinger and songwriter Tom Paxton was born in Chicago on this date in 1937. His best-known songs, recorded by Pete Seeger; Johnny Cash; Harry Belafonte; Peter, Paul and Mary; Bob Dylan; Judy Collins; Doc Watson; Marianne Faithful; The Kingston Trio; Dolly Parton; and numerous others, include: “The Last Thing on My Mind,” “Rambling Boy,” “What Did You Learn in School Today,” “Whose Garden Was This?” (an Earth Day anthem made famous by John Denver), and “Bottle of Wine.” Many of Paxton’s songs are politically inflammatory, historically and Jewishly conscious, and filled with humor and parody. “Dylan is usually cited as the founder of the new song movement,” said Dave Van Ronk, the teacher to so many folkies, “... but the person who started the whole thing was Tom Paxton... he tested his songs in the crucible of live performance, he found that his own stuff was getting more attention than when he was singing traditional songs or stuff by other people... he set himself a training regimen of deliberately writing one song every day.” Paxton’s discography of some sixty albums includes several for children, and he has also written numerous musically themed children’s books. In 2009, Paxton received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award for his incredibly prolific career. To see him kibitzing about age and singing “The Last Thing on My Mind,” look below. “I learned that policemen are my friend/I learned that justice never ends/I learned that criminals die for the crime/even though we make a mistake sometimes/and that’s what I learned in school today...” —Tom Paxton