Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Malvina Reynolds Sang the Truth

The songs of Malvina Reynolds inspired a generation to push for justice during an unjust time. Although she didn’t start her musical career until she was in her late forties, she was an icon to those who didn’t “trust anyone over thirty.”

Malvina Reynolds was born on August 23, 1900 in San Francisco to Jewish immigrants. At a time when few women went to college, Malvina Reynolds earned her Bachelor and Master of Arts degrees in English at the University of California, Berkey and earned her doctorate there in 1938.

Her parents had been socialists and opposed to WWI, her husband, William Reynolds, was a carpenter and communist organizer. She had seen first hand the effects of the Great Depression, the migration of Dust Bowl refugees, the plight of the farm and cannery workers, the interment of Japanese-Americans during WWII, and the Red Scare.

According to her daughter, she had always wanted to teach, but never followed up on her dream. When she met Pete Seeger and other folk musicians in the 1950s her life took a new direction. She went back to school, this time to study music theory.

She began writing songs that reflected her beliefs in justice and humanity. Her studies in English and music and her experiences in life gave her the ability to write powerful, insightful songs about the injustices and wrongs she felt so strongly about.

Malvina Reynolds passed away March 17, 1978 at the age of 77 and performed until just a few days before her death.

Sadly, many of the topics that Malvina Reynolds wrote and sang about are still as pertinent today as they were forty years ago.

Malvina Reynolds – There’ll Come A Time.mp3

Malvina Reynolds – We Hate To See Them Go.mp3
Bad skip, sorry.

Malvina Reynolds – Little Boxes.mp3

Malvina Reynolds – Somewhere Between.mp3
There has been a lot of mention of “Good” and “Evil” in the past few years. Most of those talking the loudest have been shouting from behind airport bathroom stalls and the madam’s boudoirs of Washington, D.C. I tend to believe that we are all “Somewhere Between.”

YouTube Video: Malvina Reynolds - No Hole in My Head

From: Rainbow Quest with Pete Seeger (No. 6)
Yes, that's Ramblin' Jack Elliott at the table with Pete and Malvina.

Most of Malvina Reynolds' recording are long out of print. Some individual songs have been released on various compilation CDs.
A few years ago, Smithsonian Folkways repackaged and remastered 23 great recordings by Malvina Reynolds from the 1960s and '70s. The CD Ear To The Ground is available from Smithsonian Folkways.

Thanks to our friend, Dan, for the inspiration for today’s post.
Also, I owe a tip of the hat to our friend, Jim H., for the idea for Monday's post. I'm putting something more substantial together, Jim, thanks for the idea.


Blogger lynne said...

Havent heard of this lady before .. cannot play tracks, looking forward to hearing Little Boxes. I am exhausted bin up all night reading ALL your posts. The France, Germany etc. section was tremendously informative. Please keep driving,

October 09, 2007 11:13 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

Damn, Lynne, you need a hobby!

Just kidding, I am honored that you took the time to read my posts.

Thanks, once again for letting me know of the file glitch.

October 10, 2007 7:55 PM  
Anonymous john said...

My wife saw Malvina here in Rockford, at the Web, in '77.
It's still on her list of "I was there" concerts!

October 11, 2007 9:43 AM  
Anonymous Dan said...

Thanks, Ed, for honouring me with a mention for the Malvina post. You seem to dig deeply, sometimes very deeply to bring the best. And you do.

October 11, 2007 5:45 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

Your wife was fortunate, indeed.

October 11, 2007 6:22 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

Thanks for the help and the kind words.

October 11, 2007 6:23 PM  
Blogger Liz said...

My father introduced me to "Ear to the Ground" a few years ago, and a few tracks are still staples on my playlists. From what I've heard, Malvina Reynolds is one of the most unique folk singers out there. Her songs aren't what people would typically call "pretty," but they use the music as a means to get the point across. I tend to replay songs that I can either sing along with or that speak clearly to me. "Little Boxes" was the first song that spoke to me directly, having been aware of that sentiment since I was about 7 years old. For the record, though, one of my favorites has got to be "Rim of the World." Gotta give the lady credit - she just sat back and sang, and stressed the text far more than the music. Took guts to do as she did... especially at the age she did it. :) Thanks for sharing these!! I'm enjoying the new (to me) tracks, and I'll be sure to share them.

October 11, 2007 6:34 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

Kudos to your father!

You’re right, while her musical arrangements were fairly simple, Malvina spent years studying English, her strength was in her ability to convey her message in her lyrics. Considering the political climate of the time, Malvina had a lot of guts. We could use a few like Malvina today.

Rosalie Sorrels recorded a tribute album, “No Closing Chord: The Songs of Malvina Reynolds”, with a wonderful version of “On The Rim Of The World”.

I have always held Malvina Reynolds in the company of the truly great folk singer/songwriters. Like Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and Holly Near, Malvina took on any issue and presented it with artistry and simplicity.

October 11, 2007 9:32 PM  
Blogger Black Dog said...

While the bus was in stand by I realize that I made an error in Malvina's family name. I called her by Russell. I once worked with a theater director who when he saw his name mis-spelled tore the poster into tiny bits and threw it at the organizer. Don't believe Malvina would be so militant on the issue but a great artist should be recognized correctly. She is an interesting subject for a theater piece though probably a done proposition. Ways of seeing allow for new interpretations and well the idea is spinning...

thoughts fly... k.

October 13, 2007 10:46 AM  
Blogger Ed said...

Black Dog,
Save me a front row seat for the premiere show!

October 14, 2007 11:19 AM  
Blogger Lisa H said...

Thanks for doing a post on Malvina! Coincidentally, I've had her song "In Perry County" stuck in my head for days.

(Have I mentioned this before?) My parents took me to see her when I was about 6 or 7, sometime in the late '60s. I remember sitting on the floor in front where kids could see. At some point she said that a lot of her songs were written from stories in the newspaper, and she'd be happy to answer any questions people had on them. I raised my hand, she called on me first, and my question was "How do you play the guitar?" She explained about the strings having different notes depending on where you put your fingers down, and demonstrated how a combination of notes could make a chord.

Looking back, it says a lot about Malvina that she would honor a little kid's question as seriously as one from an adult. And yes, I took up guitar shortly afterwards and am still playing.

October 18, 2007 10:21 AM  
Blogger Ed said...

What a wonderful story, Lisa!

October 19, 2007 8:02 AM  

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