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November 11, 2002
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v2.1 Reference

Rainbow Quest

The Folk Music Revival and American Society, 1940-1970

For a brief period from the late 1950s to the mid-1960s, folk music captured a mass audience in the United States, as college students and others swarmed to concerts by the likes of Peter, Paul & Mary, Joan Baez, and Bob Dylan. In this comprehensive study, Ronald D. Cohen reconstructs the history of this singular cultural moment, tracing its origins to the early decades of the twentieth century. Drawing on scores of interviews and numerous manuscript collections, as well as his own extensive files, Cohen shows how a broad range of traditions–from hillbilly, gospel, blues, and sea shanties to cowboy, ethnic, and political protest music–all contributed to the genre known as folk. He documents the crucial work of John Lomax and other collectors who, with the assistance of recording companies, preserved and distributed folk music in the 1920s. During the 1930s and 1940s, the emergence of left-wing politics and the rise of the commercial music marketplace helped to stimulate wider interest in folk music. Stars emerged, such as Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, Pete Seeger, Burl Ives, and Josh White. With the success of the Weavers and the Kingston Trio in the 1950s, the stage was set for the full-blown "folk revival" of the early 1960s. Centered in New York's Greenwich Village and sustained by a flourishing record industry, the revival spread to college campuses and communities across the country. It included a wide array of performers and a supporting cast of journalists, club owners, record company executives, political activists, managers, and organizers. By 1965 the boom had passed its peak, as rock and roll came to dominate the marketplace, but the folk revival left an enduring musical legacy in American culture.

About the Author

Ronald D. Cohen is professor of history at Indiana University Northwest and editor of Agnes "Sis" Cunningham and Gordon Friesen's Red Dust and Broadsides: A Joint Autobiography (University of Massachusetts Press, 1999).


"Thorough, engaging, and informative, this book makes a significant contribution to the field and will be valuable to those teaching or taking courses in American music of the twentieth century."—Paul F. Wells, director, Center for Popular Music,

Middle Tennessee State University

"There is an enormous amount of historical information here. It is wonderful to have it all available in one place."—Norm Cohen, author of Folksong America: A

Twentieth-Century Revival

"Cohen's book goes far toward documenting the cultural phenomenon of the mid-20th-century folk music revival, particularly telling the story of the scene's political and musical roots in and around New York City. This book will become a central piece of the whole story as it continues to be told in cities and venues around the country."—Betsy Siggins and Millie Rahn, Club Passim/ New England Folk Music Archive Project
University of Massachusetts Press

9781558493483 : rainbow-quest-cohen
Paperback / softback
384 Pages
$28.95 USD

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Red Dust and Broadsides

edited by Ronald D. Cohen, Gordon Friesen
Aug 1999 - University of Massachusetts Press
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