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Exploring the Folk Music Roots of Rock

The early '60s Bob Dylan, as seen in Sing Out (PHOTO Sing Out collection, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Archives)

by David C. Barnett

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has acquired a collection of historic documents and recordings that will help researchers better understand the folk music roots of rock. It comes from Sing Out magazine.  For 65 years, folk musicians have dog-eared the pages of this publication to learn and understand America's musical heritage.

Andy Leach directs the Rock Hall's Library and Archives, and he says, " Sing Out is the primary publication for folk music in the United States. In an age before the internet, if you subscribed to Sing Out, you could have access to these songs and these lyrics, which weren't available otherwise."

The famous folk journal is sharing nearly 80 boxes of materials, including photos, correspondence, and recordings.   Sing Out has also provided the Archives with a copy of every issue of the magazine --- all the way back to #1 from May of 1950, which featured a brand new tune, called "The Hammer Song" on its front cover

First recorded by the Weavers, it was part of the soundtrack for many labor rallies, civil rights demonstrations, and countless grade-school sing-a-longs.  In fact, Sing Out got its name from the song's chorus.

Cleveland folk singer Harriet Krauss goes by the stage named of Gusti.  She says you might have seen up-and-coming performers like Bob Dylan at folk festivals in the early 1960s, but Sing Out was where you could really learn their music.

"To find a magazine that actually put in the words, the tune, the chords, who wrote it --- there was nothing else like it."

And now, scholars from around the world have access to some new tools, to better understand this country's musical DNA.

David C. Barnett was a senior arts & culture reporter for Ideastream Public Media. He retired in October 2022.