Places that Matter

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Almanac House

Martha Cooper
Martha Cooper
Residence of folk revival musicians, the Almanac Singers
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Place Matters Profile

In the 1940s, New York City became a center for American folk music, and one of the movement's epicenters was this house in Greenwich Village, literally home in 1941 to the Almanac Singers. The Almanac Singers were a loose collective that at times included many of the folk revival's key participants: Woody Guthrie, Millard Lampell, Pete Seeger, Bess Lomax (sister of Alan Lomax), Lee Hays, Gordon Friesen, Agnes Cunningham, and others. Guthrie, Lampell, and Seeger lived in the house, with others passing through as well, and held performances--called hootenannies--there to help pay the rent.

New York in the 1940s was home to a number of well known southern folk musicians including Leadbelly, Aunt Molly Jackson, Sonny Terry, and Brownie McGee. Many young activists including Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger drew on folk styles for songs about unions and left wing politics. New York was where musicians could make their living, playing benefits for left-wing groups that recognized the songs for their "authenticity" and protest tradition.

The location in New York City most associated with the folk revival was Almanac House, so called because it formed the home base for the Almanac Singers, who wrote "The Sinking of the Reuben James." Many of the arguments and agreements that shaped folk music as it has come to be understood happened in this house. Nearly every member of the Almanac Singers--and they were many--would become a key participant in the creation of the early folk revival, which blossomed once again in the 1960s.

Pete Seeger, the Harvard-educated son of Charles Seeger, sometimes considered the father of ethnomusicology, was determined to extend the traditional use of music as a tool for political organizing. The Almanac Singers took their name from the Farmer's Almanac, which Seeger considered was one of the only two books that the common man owned. The Bible would help them with the next world; the almanac assisted them in getting through this one.