The Weavers

This US folk group was formed in 1949, from artists with a background of traditional music and comprised Lee Hays (b. 1914, Little Rock, Arkansas, USA, d. 26 August 1981; vocals/guitar), Fred Hellerman (b. 13 May 1927, New York, USA; vocals/guitar), Ronnie Gilbert (b. vocals) and Pete Seeger (b. 3 May 1919, New York City, New York, USA; vocals/guitar/banjo). Previously Seeger and Hays had been members of the Almanac Singers with Woody Guthrie. Unlike many similar groups of the time, the Weavers were able to attain commercial acceptance and success, without having to compromise their folk heritage. Virtually all their record releases charted, a precedent for a folk group. They have at times been credited with creating the climate for the post-war folk revival. Many songs became ‘standards’ as a result of the popularity achieved by the group, in particular Goodnight Irene, which sold one million copies in 1950. Other successful songs were, Kisses Sweeter Than Wine and On Top Of Old Smokey, the latter remaining at number 1 for three months. Despite Seeger being blacklisted in 1952, and brought before the House of Un-American Activities Committee, the group still sold over four million records during that period. The Weavers disbanded the same year because of personal reasons as well as the pressures brought about by the McCarthy era. The group had lost bookings after being added to the blacklist of left-wing, or even suspected left-wing sympathizers at the time.
In 1955, their manager Harold Leventhal, persuaded them to reunite for a Christmas concert at Carnegie Hall. Such was the success of the event that they continued to tour internationally for a few more years, while still recording for the Vanguard Records label. Despite the acclaim, Seeger was still able to combine a successful solo career but, by 1958, he had left the group. He was replaced in fairly quick succession by Erik Darling, then Frank Hamilton and finally Bernie Krause. The Weavers disbanded at the end of 1963, after 15 years together, and capped the event with an anniversary concert at Carnegie Hall. Travelling and personal ambitions were given as the reasons for the split. After the group left the music scene, there were many who tried to fill their space but none had the combination of enthusiasm and commitment that had made the Weavers such a popular act. Lee Hays, in his latter years confined to a wheelchair, died after many years of poor health in August 1981. In compliance with Hay's wishes, his ashes were mixed with his garden compost pile! Nine months earlier, the original line-up had joined together to film the documentary WASN'T THAT A TIME? recalling the group's earlier successes.

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