How Cambridge Brought Back Folk Music

By Jared Bowen

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April 11, 2012
 
Legendary American folk singer Tom Rush performs Drift Away in the Greater Boston studio.

BOSTON — Folk music legend Tom Rush is in town is to celebrate the Cambridge-based club where he and others like Judy Collins and Joan Baez began their musical careers. Their stories are told in For the Love of the Music, a new documentary premiering at the Boston International Film Festival next week.

The club was intended to be a Parisian-like coffeehouse, featuring jazz music on the far reaches of Harvard Square. That was how two Brandeis students envisioned the scene when they opened Club 47 on Palmer Street in 1958. (Now home of the non-profit arts program Passim.)

For the Love of the Music charts the evolution of Club 47 from a Jazz oasis to a launching pad for the American folk music revival, especially with the arrival of one then-unknown Joan Baez. Club owner Joyce Chopra recalls the first time the legendary folk singer came to “47”.

“To expect nothing and to have this rather ordinary looking young person walk in and open her mouth to start to sing is an amazing experience; a once in a lifetime experience,” she said.
 
“That was just coming out of the jazz era and the women who ran 47 took a risk,” recalls Baez. “Instead of having Jazz, I guess one night a week they had folk music. And that’s where I really got started, in my opinion.”
 
Baez was hired for the club’s slow nights and paid all of ten dollars. A vibrant folk scene briskly developed and Club 47 became fertile ground for singers like Tom Rush, Taj Mahal, Judy Collins, Bob Dylan and many others.
 
Grammy-award winning bluegrass singer Peter Rowan recalls learning from the giants in the early days. “First night, I heard Erik von Schmidt playing the Blues. Next night, my mother dropped me off and I heard Jackie Washington, then the next night I heard Tom Rush.”
 
Building upon 30 interviews, performances, old recordings and never-before-seen photographs, the film fully documents Club 47’s pivotal role in folk music’s renewed popularity, and how it embraced the anti-war and civil rights movements before the revival peaked in the mid-60s.



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