STARRED REVIEW
November 13, 2018

Wasn’t That a Time

By Jesse Jarnow
So much has been written about the Weavers being blacklisted from performing in the 1950s that it obscures the far more important fact that they still became one of America’s most influential pop music groups.
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So much has been written about the folk band the Weavers being blacklisted from performing in the 1950s that it obscures the far more important fact that they still became one of America’s most influential music groups. The Weavers launched in 1949 with Pete Seeger on banjo, Fred Hellerman on guitar and Lee Hays and Ronnie Gilbert on vocals. Each of the band members had deep political roots and regarded music as a benign form of propaganda for progressive causes. Seeger had joined the Young Communist League in 1937, when he was 18, and by the onset of World War II, he was already being shadowed by the FBI. Of all the left-leaning Weavers, he would be the most hounded.

The Weavers’ first steady gig was at the Village Vanguard in New York, where they were discovered by the noted bandleader Gordon Jenkins. Enthralled by their harmonies and exuberance, he signed them to Decca Records. From 1950 to 1952, the group scored a series of high-ranking pop singles, including “Tzena, Tzena, Tzena,” “Goodnight Irene,” “On Top of Old Smokey” and “Wimoweh.” These songs led to more bookings at major nightclubs around the country. However, as their fame increased, so did the hue and cry of both the conservative government and self-appointed blacklisters.

In Wasn’t That a Time, author Jesse Jarnow astutely chronicles how the Weavers lost gigs, quit working as a group, and dealt with internal dissension and government persecution. However, these musicians continued to bounce back into the spotlight at regular intervals up until the 1980s. Denied access to airtime on both radio and television, the Weavers became one of the first groups to deliver their music directly to the masses via live recordings on the then-new long-play vinyl albums. As to the many acts they influenced, Jarnow cites Harry Belafonte; the Byrds; the Beach Boys; Peter, Paul and Mary; Judy Collins; Jerry Garcia; Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. All of the members of the Weavers are gone now, but their music survives in virtually every political sing-along.

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Wasn’t That a Time

Wasn’t That a Time

By Jesse Jarnow
Da Capo
ISBN 9780306902079

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