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The Folk Music Manager

Lawrence Bush
May 23, 2017

Harold Leventhal, music manager for The Weavers, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Theodore Bikel, Judy Collins, Joan Baez, Phil Ochs, Neil Young, Johnny Cash, Peter, Paul & Mary, Tom Paxton, Arlo Guthrie (shown with Leventhal above), and numerous other folk musicians, was born in Ellenville, New York on this date in 1919. Leventhal joined the American Communist movement as a young man, and was drawn into the music business by Woody Guthrie’s column, “Woody Sez,” in the Communist Daily Worker. After meeting Pete Seeger while working on Henry Wallace’s 1948 presidential campaign, Leventhal became manager of The Weavers, who were soon blacklisted and driven to disband in 1952. In 1955, Leventhal organized a famous Weavers reunion concert at Carnegie Hall on Christmas Eve, a concert that helped ignite the folk music boom of the late 1950s and early 1960s as a culture response to political repression. Leventhal also promoted the first concert of young Bob Dylan at the Town Hall in New York City in April, 1963. Denied a passport in the early 1950s, he organized international tours for folksingers whom the U.S. State Department had blacklisted from its cultural exchange roster. Leventhal also helped produce several films, including the Academy Award-winning Bound for Glory, the Pete Seeger documentary A Song and a Stone, the documentary about The Weavers, Wasn’t that a Time, and the Emmy-winning We Shall Overcome (1988). He died at 86 in 2005.

“He did something extraordinary for the Weavers. He stuck his neck out and had faith in us when others wouldn’t. You might say he had faith in America, too.” —Pete Seeger

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.