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Reviewed by:
  • Paul Clayton and the Folksong Revival
  • Morris S. Levy
Paul Clayton and the Folksong Revival. By Bob Coltman. (American Folk Music and Musicians, no. 10.) Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2008. [xxvi, 297 p. ISBN 978-0-8108-6132-9. $55.] Illustrations, appendix, notes, discography, bibliography, index.

When I was a boy, I went through a phase when I was fascinated by everything cetaceous; one of the favorite places in my world was beneath the life-sized blue whale model in New York’s American Museum of Natural History. I recall studying a “map” of whales that I discovered in an issue of the National Geographic, imagining myself as a researcher of narwhals and belugas. Another one of my favorite places while growing up was the performing arts library at Lincoln Center, and I remember one visit during which I checked out three LPs of whale-related music: Alan Hovhaness’ And God Created Great Whales, conducted by Andre Kostelanetz; John Tavener’s The Whale, released in 1970 on the Beatles’ Apple label; and Whaling and Sailing Songs from the Days of Moby Dick, a 1956 album on [End Page 288] the Tradition label with a stark drawing of Captain Ahab on the cover (probably motivated by the contemporaneous release of the film starring Gregory Peck), and songs performed by a folksinger with New Bedford, Massachusetts roots named Paul Clayton. As I moved from high school enthusiast to college musicologist to graduate school folklorist/ethnomusicologist, and eventually to music librarian, I collected as many Paul Clayton albums as I could find, and there were quite a few out there: Clayton was a prolific recording artist whose songs were released on the Tradition, Folkways, Stinson, Riverside, Elektra, and Monument labels. I even toyed with the idea of producing a compilation compact disc of Clayton’s music or writing a biography of Clayton; the latter idea became moot when I learned that Bob Coltman was working on the first book-length study of Clayton for Scarecrow Press. Coltman’s book, Paul Clayton and the Folksong Revival, was published in September 2008, and it is a fine study of a nearly forgotten but still significant figure in the folksong revival of the 1950s and 1960s.

Paul Clayton Worthington was born in 1931 in New Bedford into a volatile household; his parents divorced when he was only four. Paul formed strong bonds with his mother and his maternal grandparents, Charles and Elizabeth Hardy, who taught him the songs they had learned in their youth: Charles from the New Bedford whalers he met as a whaling outfitter and Elizabeth from growing up on Prince Edward Island. Not only did they imbue Clayton with their music, they also taught him an approach to singing that he maintained throughout his career: an unadorned, almost talking style of singing that was rhythmically freer than the standardized forms of popular and popularized folk music. By high school, he was performing folk songs on a local radio program; at nineteen, he recorded the songs that he learned from his family for folklorist Helen Hartness Flanders. (These recordings are now part of the Vermont Folklife Center at Middlebury College.) As an undergraduate at the University of Virginia, he sought out English professor Arthur Kyle Davis, who had published Traditional Ballads of Virginia (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1929), and Folk-Songs of Virginia: A Descriptive Index and Classification of Material Collected Under the Auspices of the Virginia Folklore Society (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1949), and was looking for students to go out into the Virginia countryside and collect new songs. Clayton’s good looks, charm, and easygoing manner worked well for him in his fieldwork, and he soon made lifetime connections with native performers as well as with other students interested in folk music, including business graduate student William Marburg, who performed as Bill Clifton. Clayton had taught himself the guitar in high school; in college, he mastered the Appalachian dulcimer. In the summer of his sophomore year, Clayton headed for Europe and North Africa to collect folk songs, even convincing the BBC to make a twenty-eight-program folk-music series featuring himself. Returning to Charlottesville, Clayton teamed with Bill...


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