In 2003, the walls of Carnegie Hall resounded with the joined voices of some of America’s most important living folk musicians, in a concert that will be broadcast for the first time on Sunday, August 13, at 8:00 pm as Folk Legends: Isn’t This a Time!. The Weavers, their erstwhile member Pete Seeger, Peter, Paul & Mary, and Arlo Guthrie performed together to celebrate the influential folk impresario Harold Leventhal, who had played an important role in all of their careers. Meet the stars who took part here.
Leventhal’s career intersected with nearly every significant American folk musician of the second half of the twentieth century and many international stars as well, either as a manager or producer. In addition to the musicians who took part in the 2003 tribute concert, his clients included Woody Guthrie, Judy Collins, Joan Baez, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Neil Diamond, Donovan, Jacques Brel, and Ravi Shankar.
Leventhal’s career in music began as a song plugger, who sold tunes to bands, for Irving Berlin and Benny Goodman. An early devotion to leftist politics – he was arrested at 16 for organizing an anti-war pledge and lost a job for unionizing – eventually led him to folk music via Woody Guthrie. He masterminded a famous 1955 Carnegie Hall concert that reunited The Weavers after they had broken up as a result of blacklisting and falling sales during the McCarthy era. Isn’t This a Time! is a tribute to that concert. Later, he produced Bob Dylan’s first concert. Leventhal died in 2005.
Formed in 1948, The Weavers helped kick-start the modern folk revival with the historic 1955 Carnegie Hall concert organized by Leventhal. The initial phase of their career ended in 1952 because of the detrimental effects of the Red Scare – two members, Pete Seeger and Lee Hays, were both called to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Seeger left the group over artistic differences in 1958, and the group disbanded in 1964, after taking on several replacement members. They played one final reunion as a full group at Carnegie in 1980, the year before Hays died.
Seeger was not only an important folk musician and songwriter both on his own and in The Weavers, but also a prominent activist. He helped popularize the spiritual “We Shall Overcome,” which became an anthem of the Civil Rights Movement. He wrote a classic book on how to play the banjo, introduced U.S. audiences to the steel drum of the Caribbean, and was an early supporter of Bob Dylan. He was a visible anti-war, civil rights, and environmental activist in the 1960s. He died in 2014.
Peter, Paul & Mary
The folk trio of Peter Yarrow, Paul Stookey, and Mary Travers formed in 1961, influenced by Seeger, The Weavers, and Woody Guthrie. They continued the social commentary of those artists, performing at the 1963 March on Washington in which Martin Luther King, Jr. made his “I Have a Dream” speech and in 1968 endorsing the antiwar presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy in song. They are perhaps best known for their song “Puff, the Magic Dragon,” but also had hits with songs by Seeger and John Denver. Travers died in 2009.
The son of Woody Guthrie, Arlo is best-known for his long, talking song “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree,” the title track of his 1967 debut album that later became a film and a Thanksgiving Day tradition. With Seeger, he organized annual Carnegie Hall concerts on Thanksgiving in honor of the famous 1955 Weavers concert.