- The Conscience of the Folk Revival: The Writings of Israel “Izzy” Young Ed. by Scott Barretta
Israel “Izzy” Young carved out a special niche in the Folk Revival. His writings display how he touched on worlds of performance, concert promotion, recordings, and folklore during an influential career in folk music. Izzy’s threepage foreword tells how he entered the world of the Folk Revival. One night, his date got the idea to go to a square dance, and to Izzy’s surprise, he was hooked.
Following Izzy’s foreword is Scott Barretta’s well-crafted introduction. It provides details of Izzy’s biography from his childhood in the Bronx through his emigration to Sweden in 1973 and beyond. Influenced by folklorist Ken Goldstein, Izzy’s first entrance into the Folk Revival world was by publishing a catalog of folklore books. When he opened the Folklore Center in a Greenwich Village storefront, he became a more public person, and Izzy’s influence began to be widely felt. Barretta’s introduction contains key reference points that Young was known for, or that he wrote about. They include immersion in the folk world, music promoter, Friends of Old Time Music, public intellectual and scribe, copyright, Bob Dylan, The Continuing Folklore Center Folk Festival, and Sweden and the Folklore Centrum.
The Folklore Center was one of few continuously operating commercial entities connected to the Revival. Though the Folklore Center was small, it seemed as if it occupied a city block in the downtown of Folk Nation. It was the kind of place where you could drop in and play the instruments for sale hanging on the walls without feeling pressure to buy something. Young was a friend to many struggling young folksingers, and some of them crawled into sleeping bags in the Folklore Center when there was no other option.
The Folklore Center was a community place, and that was one reason Israel Young was known. Izzy also seemed to know everybody in the Folk Revival, and those connections are plainly apparent in this volume. The book contains Izzy’s writings and begins with his column in his self-published Folk Music Guide USA. There were four editions of the guide created in 1959 and 1960. The Guide attempted to list club dates and college performances of folksingers, but it also included music industry notes such as artist representation and recordings.
Izzy is perhaps best remembered for his column “Frets and Frails” in Sing Out! magazine, written from 1959–1969. The Conscience of the Folk Revival contains the entire run of “Frets and Frails,” which takes up pages 41–162. Reading his pieces, you sense why the book title names Izzy Young as the conscience of the Folk Revival. Young revels in reporting on folksingers who registered copyrights for songs that had been in circulation. For example, The Conscience of the Folk Revival quotes Sing Out! (9:32, 1959) where Izzy writes that the popular folk singing group The Kingston Trio “copyrighted ‘Shady Grove’ to the great chagrin of the Ritchie Family … who have sung it for generations” (p. 45). In the same column, Izzy tells how Alan Lomax copyrighted “Irene Goodnight,” which was actually written by Lead Belly. Another column shows how Izzy sometimes took other reviewers to task, writing “I am tired of lazy reporters who write of Odetta and Mahalia Jackson in the same sentence” (p. 45).
In addition to the ethical concerns Young raised, he would print details such as the Osborne Brothers playing at Sunset Park in Pennsylvania, and that the musician and documentarian Mike Seeger was the most steadfast visitor to the park. The columns also report on industry concerns such as Harold Levanthal’s exclusive contract with the New Lost City Ramblers.
Folklorists reading about the folk world of Izzy Young will be struck by how much things have changed. In the 1940s into the 1950s, the scholarly focus was...