Wasn't That a Time

The Weavers, the Blacklist, and the Battle for the Soul of America


By Jesse Jarnow

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The dramatic untold story of the Weavers, the hit-making folk-pop quartet destroyed with the aid of the United States government — and who changed the world, anyway

Following a series of top-ten hits that became instant American standards, the Weavers dissolved at the height of their fame. Wasn’t That a Time: The Weavers, the Blacklist, and the Battle for the Soul of America details the remarkable rise of Pete Seeger’s unlikely band of folk heroes, from basement hootenannies to the top of the charts, and the harassment campaign that brought them down.

Exploring how a pop group’s harmonies might be heard as a threat worthy of decades of investigation by the FBI, Wasn’t That a Time turns the black-and-white 1950s into vivid color, using the Weavers to illuminate a dark and complex period of American history. With origins in the radical folk collective the Almanac Singers and the ambitious People’s Songs, the singing activists in the Weavers set out to change the world with songs as their weapons, pioneering the use of music as a transformative political organizing tool.

Using previously unseen journals and letters, unreleased recordings, once-secret government documents, and other archival research, Jesse Jarnow uncovers the immense hopes, incredible pressures, and daily struggles of the four distinct and often unharmonious personalities at the heart of the Weavers.

In an era defined by a sharp political divide that feels all too familiar, the Weavers became heroes. With a class — and race — conscious global vision that now makes them seem like time travelers from the twenty-first century, the Weavers became a direct influence on a generation of musicians and listeners, teaching the power of eclectic songs and joyous, participatory harmonies.



The New Situations

May 1943

Agent Harwood E. Ryan left the base and crossed the harbor through a panoramic view of lower Manhattan and Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, and stepped into Greenwich Village’s side streets, pursuing information about the Subject. At a West Village walk-up, Ryan ascended the narrow stairs to the fourth floor and found himself face-to-face with a short, wiry man with wiry hair. Ryan had every reason to believe this man had useful background information.

The United States was a year and a half into its involvement in World War II and, down in Mississippi, the rest of the Subject’s company had already shipped out. But the army had lingering questions about whether the recent inductee might rightly be considered subversive, if he could be entrusted to repair battle-ready airplanes, and so he was kept on American soil, doing menial work in the Southern heat.

The man with the wiry hair was the recipient of correspondence with the Subject, and one of many leads the Counterintelligence Corps was pursuing, paperwork and agents fanning out from field offices and through inter-bureau channels. They read the Subject’s mail and invented a pretext under which to interview the Subject’s father, an eminent scholar in the nation’s capital.

The week before, Agent Laubscher had crisscrossed New England, interviewing the Subject’s high school teachers. Other agents were on the case in other jurisdictions, but Agent Ryan’s lead on Charles Street was the best so far, having worked with the Subject most recently.

At Keesler Field in Mississippi, it hadn’t taken long for Pvt. Peter Seeger to be reported as a potential subversive. On the base, his fellow soldiers had quickly nicknamed the young musician “New York,” and it was easy to see why. At age twenty-three, Seeger plunged into the world as he thought it should be. It came partly from privilege, but also the ability to see the injustice of its opposite. He spoke as if he’d attended a prestigious university, which he had. That he’d dropped out after his freshman year made little difference.

“Badly pimpled face and rather prominent red nose,” the confidential War Department memo said of the six-foot-four-inch Seeger. Officially, he was under investigation for “disaffection,” but that hardly described Pete Seeger. Several interview subjects mentioned Seeger’s prodigious banjo skills, and that much was true.

A few months after Seeger arrived, his superiors received notice from the FBI office in San Francisco about a particular letter Seeger had sent. The American Legion had announced their support of a motion to deport all Japanese citizens following the presumed defeat of Japan.

“I felt shocked, outraged, and disgusted,” Seeger wrote to the organization of veterans. “We, who may have to give our lives in this great struggle—we’re fighting precisely to free the world of such Hitlerism, such narrow jingoism… America is great and strong as she is because we have so far been a haven to all oppressed.” The American Legion forwarded the letter to the FBI, and the FBI forwarded it back to the base in Mississippi.

Concern for racial equality was precisely the kind of danger sign that set antennae a-twitch. The year before, Martin Dies, then chairman of the House Un-American Activities Committee, had observed that “ throughout the South today subversive elements are attempting to convince the Negro that he should be placed on social equality with white people, that now is the time for him to assert his rights.” These subversive elements were connected to foreign powers, Dies and others suggested.

If that weren’t enough for Seeger to be suspected of enemy sympathies, he had received correspondence on stationery belonging to the Japanese-American Committee for Democracy, from his half-Japanese girlfriend, Toshi Ohta. Never mind that her father was working for the army as an unofficial diplomat.

Now, in New York, Agent Ryan pieced together the mystery of Seeger. None seemed to think he was any kind of imminent threat. The latest was the wiry-haired man Ryan interviewed. “The Subject is not an overthrower, but he is out to win the war,” Ryan summarized in his report.

The wiry-haired interviewee was a musician too, Ryan noted, employed with Seeger in a group called the Almanac Singers. According to this man, these Almanac Singers (as Agent Ryan duly recorded) “slept on freight trains, under bridges, in churches, and so forth” and wrote and sang “hillbilly songs and ballads” in union halls. In the interviewed man’s estimation, Seeger was the most original lyricist of the bunch.

A picture of the Subject was starting to emerge: well organized, motivated, a bit awkward, but possessing an always-moving mind. “Brilliant,” Ryan’s interviewee stressed.

And also perhaps almost completely guileless. When Seeger had been called in for his own interview he’d asked in his high-spoken manner why hadn’t he been deployed? He’d explained firmly that the Japanese-American Committee for Democracy opposed the Japanese government. Albert Einstein was one of their sponsors.

The initial report concluded, “From all indications, Subject has no idea that anything he has done or any associations he might have had in the past or might have at the present time would be cause to hold him on this field or keep him under surveillance at any time.”

But under surveillance he was. In New York, Ryan had more subjects to interview. The wiry-haired man on Charles Street provided some good leads. Agent Ryan didn’t think the man was misleading him, but during the interview observed something amiss and noted it in his report.

Hanging on the wall of the apartment was what Ryan described as a “large guitar” containing the inscription THIS MACHINE KILLS FASCISTS. To Ryan, this confirmed beyond doubt that the Almanac Singers—both Seeger and perhaps this wiry-haired man—were Communists. If there was one thing Communists hated, it was Fascists.

This W. W. Guthrie had been truthful “as far as he went,” Ryan noted, but the agent suspected “he knew a great deal more about the Subject’s politics and activities than he admitted.” Certainly, thirty-one-year-old Woody Guthrie also knew the drill, and what he should or shouldn’t say when someone came ’round askin’ questions ’bout his good buddy Pete.

Seeger’s former landlord, on the other hand, was ready to grumble. They were a “noisy and troublesome crowd,” Bernie Schultz said. A woman named Bessie Lomax had appeared, signed a lease, and they’d taken over the two-room apartment at the back of the disused office building across from the Jefferson Market Courthouse on Sixth Avenue. “Disreputable, no account type of individual[s],” Schultz called them. He suspected two of them of being Oklahomans.

Schultz told the agent that Seeger was the group’s leader. But really, he was “just as erratic as the other members,” the landlord concluded. “He stood out only because he had more education.”

Over at the Village Vanguard, the basement club on Seventh Avenue, Special Agent Harwood E. Ryan interviewed impresario Max Gordon. One of the two integrated nightspots in Manhattan, along with Café Society (where Billie Holiday had debuted “Strange Fruit”), the Vanguard was an eclectic home for bohemian culture beginning in 1935, including a six-month residency by the black folk-singing duo of Josh White and Lead Belly.

Sure, the club owner told Ryan, he’d hired the Almanac Singers a few times. But they were too left-wing for the club. “Gordon considered [Seeger] to be the most interesting person of the aggregation,” Ryan recorded, and one can just about hear the club owner sigh through decades of bureau paperwork about how it was too bad that Seeger was so committed to political music, and if only he could hire him for some other purpose. But Gordon liked the Almanacs. They were harmless.

Gordon pointed out to Agent Ryan, as well, that the Almanac whom he had previously interviewed—Woody Guthrie—was likewise the author of the recent memoir Bound for Glory, at that very moment en route up the bestseller list. “Woody is just Woody,” novelist John Steinbeck said in praise of the book, part fiction but all Guthrie.

Back at the base on Governors Island, Ryan finally received the files pertaining to the Almanac Singers, provided by G-2, the army intelligence division, and it seemed to confirm what he suspected. Clippings abounded from the Daily Worker, the Manhattan-based Communist newspaper. They’d sung songs of peace, another topic that only Communists made a cause in the early 1940s. According to the report, one song was called “Get Out and Stay Out of the War.” Another was titled “Jim Crow.” The Almanac Singers attempted to “stir up resentment for… the entry of the United States into the war.”

It wasn’t exactly an incorrect conclusion for Special Agent Harwood E. Ryan to draw, familiar and comfortable as he was with the American security apparatus. As it happened, only two days before Ryan began his Seeger assignment, FBI Chief J. Edgar Hoover himself had called an end to his own search for the Almanac Singers. Special Agent Ryan hadn’t been the first to investigate Pete Seeger, either.

In his Washington office, Hoover still wasn’t happy. The Almanac Singers’ 78s were now collectors’ items, Hoover’s agents had been told when they finally tracked down the tiny independent label that had issued them from a record store just off Times Square. But the agency’s copies broke somewhere along the line. “See to it that records are more carefully packed, in order that incidents of this type will not reoccur,” Hoover harrumphed into the margins of the report.

With or without the remains of the 78, the FBI filed the group’s music under “Gramophone Records of a Seditious Nature.” But—as Woody Guthrie and Keynote Records’ owner told the agents—by 1943, the Almanac Singers were defunct, diffused, defused. In the years to come, there would be plenty of mythologizing, not least of which would come from the many Almanac alumni. But perhaps even more mythologizing—and more testimony to the power of their music—came from the government agencies intent on tracking them down.

The 10-inch record and organization that J. Edgar Hoover sought information about began with a knock on the door in late 1940. Outside the New York apartment was Pete Seeger. Inside was the person Seeger sought: Lee Hays, a twenty-six-year-old Arkansas man as tall and round as the twenty-one-year-old Pete was tall and scrawny. When it opened, it marked the beginning of the path to the Weavers.

Had Seeger stayed at Harvard, he might have graduated in the spring of 1940, and on an alternate timeline would have been establishing his first postgraduate employment alongside classmates like John F. Kennedy. Having spent the intervening years traveling the country, playing and studying music while working occasionally at the Library of Congress, Seeger’s latest project was to assemble and publish a collection of labor songs.

Hays had arrived in Manhattan only weeks before on exactly the same mission. The son of a Methodist minister, it would often be said—sometimes by Hays himself—that he’d spent time as a preacher, though it wasn’t true, exactly. With a booming voice and genial Southern politesse, Hays could engage an audience with an authority that Seeger admired. A former protégé of radical Presbyterian minister Claude Williams, Hays had helped organize the wonderfully acronymed Southern Tenant Farmers Union and led songs at the experimental and progressive Commonwealth College in the Ozarks. He charmed Seeger with a deeply learned Southern wit delivered with impeccable quiet timing, each punch line seemingly coiled with shared secret knowledge.

Lee Hays had witnessed the worst of the Depression firsthand, an entwining of personal and economic circumstances. Alongside an “early religious brainwashing,” it left Hays with wounds from which he’d spend his lifetime trying to recover. The scars of his upbringing would never fully heal.

After his father died in a grisly car crash when Hays was thirteen, his mother’s mental health deteriorated almost instantly. Unable to attend college as his older siblings had, the sixteen-year-old Hays hitchhiked the country.

“If I didn’t get a ride for a day or two going east, I’d go to the other side of the road and go west,” he would recall. “It didn’t make much of a difference so long as you kept moving, always hoping for work, for anything to happen. And some good things did happen.”

The best of those was unquestionably when his older brother secured Lee a job as a page in the Cleveland Public Library. “The system faced such an imminent breakdown that it could have gone in any direction, depending on who came forward,” Hays would recall of the darkest Depression years.

It was in the Cleveland Public Library that Hays radicalized himself. “Every book that was unfit for children to read was stamped [and] I’d go through the stacks looking for books that were stamped,” Hays said. First he found saucy British novelist D. H. Lawrence, but soon made his way into more political writing, notably muckraking journalist Upton Sinclair. “It was like doors opening,” he would remember, doors that led out of the fundamentalist South. Lee would spend a full four years absorbing books and small-circulation magazines.

He’d already been a contrarian before his father’s death and the Depression cleaved his family. He could feel the uncomprehending anger around him as rival political ideologies duked it out on street corners, in bars, and workplaces. “Somewhere along in there I became some kind of Socialist,” he would say. “Just what kind, I never have figured out.”

As a Hays-ism, it inevitably made the more reserved Pete Seeger smile, a one-liner smoothed with writerly precision to communicate deeper beliefs. Like Seeger, Hays believed unequivocally in the power of music. Art was a weapon, Hays learned, after the library led him to Commonwealth College. But it was more than that, he found.

Over Christmas 1938, when Hays was twenty-four, he and friends from Commonwealth had road-tripped to Tulsa to entertain striking oil workers. They presented “zipper plays,” ready for local causes to be zipped into the loose scripts. There was a large puppet dragon representing capitalism that breathed actual fire. And on the way home, they found themselves puttering through Arkansas in the middle of the night in the deepest, meanest, racist South in an unreliable and easily recognizable car with an integrated passenger load.

To soothe jangled nerves and get themselves home, they sang hymns. “As we drove along,” Hays remembered “harmonies swelling and breaking… all the voices searching, working for harmonies unheard and unknown, perfect blends of tones and feelings and fears.”

For Lee, already adept at leading groups in song, it was revelatory. “What mattered was that we were singing,” he figured out, offering their voices to each other.

In New York, Hays made another discovery: someone he could almost effortlessly sing with. Not only that, but he and Pete could trade songs, and rewrite them themselves. Together, the two tapped a rich vein, enough to put aside the proposed songbook.

The history of radical songs stretched back as far as the invention of songwriting, as far as the two could see. Union songs had sent them on their quests, often old melodies set to new and varying words. But there was also the deeper wellspring of American music that lay behind the songs, to which both were likewise drawn. Lee had connected to it listening to Emma Dusenbury on her porch back in the Ozarks, and Pete had his ears opened at the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival in Asheville, North Carolina, in 1936, where he’d met the great banjo player Bascom Lamar Lunsford.

In exchanging repertoires, Pete and Lee began to construct an alternate history of the United States, a narrative of melodies linked like a river system, both of them equally interested in hunting for the source as riding the rivers to where they might run. There were the parodies of the Wobblies—the Industrial Workers of the World—collected in the Little Red Songbook, many designed to drown out Salvation Army street bands. Most notable among them were the songs of Joe Hill, the Swedish-born songwriter hanged in 1915 for a crime he most likely didn’t commit. There was a small repertoire from the international Abraham Lincoln Brigade who fought the Fascists in the Spanish Civil War in the late ’30s. From West Virginia came “We Shall Not Be Moved,” an old hymn refit to new use by striking miners. And there were the songs of Sarah Ogan Gunning and Aunt Molly Jackson, half sisters and songwriters from Kentucky coal country.

Though Seeger and Hays would sing and work from their own complex ideologies and personalities, their shared recognition of an intangible and powerful musical mother lode would keep them connected through the next four decades. Actively looking for new songs and new causes, it was a history they would soon sing themselves into. Quickly, Seeger was crashing with Hays and his roommate most nights.

Hays was instantly astonished at Seeger’s innate musicality and remained so for the rest of his life. “I could change and improvise and ad lib and Pete would be right behind me,” he remembered decades later. “Take a song like ‘State of Arkansas,’ which you’re never quite sure if it’s major or minor and I could turn it into a major or minor feeling at any point knowing full well that Pete would be right there.”

Even so, the two continued to find new ways to be opposites over the decades of their relationship. Whereas Pete was all music, Hays could talk endlessly. Lee’s tumultuous existence had left him both vulnerable and capable of an emotional intimacy far beyond Pete’s.

Seeger had been struggling to find gigs. Alan Lomax, his old boss at the Library of Congress, and sometimes a big-brother figure, had gotten him work as a banjo player on CBS radio. But Seeger hadn’t cut it. Though Pete was getting less shy onstage, Hays made a perfect foil, as influenced by the fiery rhetoric of Claude Williams as the vaudeville routines of Doc Rockwell, alongside his minister father. Seeger got the duo their first booking, at the Jade Mountain Chinese restaurant in the East Village in December 1940, and gave the $2.50 payday to Hays in its entirety. “You need it more than I do,” Seeger told him.

The new singing group made its big stage debut, still unnamed, at Turner Arena in Washington, DC, and premiered the song that would launch the FBI’s subsequent investigation. Powered by the high-pitched silver-toned flash of Pete’s banjo, a sonic and visual novelty also guaranteed to cut through crowd noise, the soon-dubbed Almanac Singers received a thunderous ovation at the American Youth Congress for one song, especially.

The origins of “Ballad of October 16th,” its first performance, and its reception encapsulates the story of the Almanac Singers. The line that won the applause, and that would echo back to them in unpredictable and destructive ways, was penned by Lee’s roommate and the expanding group’s third member, Millard Lampell: “I hate war and so does Eleanor, but we won’t be safe ’til everybody’s dead.”

The reasons for the rhyme’s explosiveness in the context of 1941 were numerous, but the reasons for its effectiveness as a piece of music stemmed almost entirely from the songwriter Lampell was slavishly imitating. For Lampell, like perhaps millions to follow, discovering Woody Guthrie wasn’t merely discovering the songs of the Oklahoma-born guitar slinger, but an attitude.

Pete’s mentor on a cross-country hitchhiking adventure the previous summer, Woody had blown into town filled with songs and advice and inspiration just after Pete and Lee had started singing together with Lampell. Any song at all could be disassembled and rewritten at will, Woody impressed upon them, for whatever (or no) reason at all. Songs could be weapons, sure, or tools of reassurance and solidarity, but they could also be fleeting objects of play, made to be whatever the moment wanted. And within weeks, Guthrie was off to the West Coast again.

It was an irreverent songwriting strategy that perfectly appealed to the bubbling squad of young progressives. They would and could be useful up-to-date singers, ready to serve worthy causes on a moment’s notice. They found inspiration in newspaper headlines, the newspaper of choice unquestionably the Communist Party organ the Daily Worker. But as Lee pointed out, the Worker was easily the best paper in New York, covering local and global news events from race and class angles that other dailies ignored. It was certainly the only paper in town to offer regular coverage of the Louisiana-born musician Huddie Ledbetter, known as Lead Belly. Plus, as Lee pointed out, the Worker had the best sports section too.

The Almanac Singers’ early rent parties at their Union Square loft with friends like Lead Belly, Burl Ives, Josh White, and Aunt Molly Jackson often constituted the whole of the New York folk scene as it existed. Even if politicized folk music was a relatively new phenomenon in early 1941, the Almanac Singers came into existence as part of a fertile cultural scene that stretched far past music. The Popular Front had been so named by the Communist Party, but from a cultural perspective it had even deeper roots.

Positing a unified force against the fascism creeping over Europe, the Popular Front championed the importance and history of culture across race and class lines, celebrating the power of the worker. In the United States, the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) became the center of American labor in the mid-1930s, anchoring a swirl of art and theater and literature and music deeply entwined with both Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration and the American Communist Party.

It was exactly the type of broad mission that might grab a teenager with a seemingly unlimited capacity for folk music. Shuffled off to boarding school at the young age of four after his parents divorced, Pete Seeger had a subscription to the Marxist literary journal New Masses by age fourteen. An aloof adolescent who would stay aloof into adulthood, Pete could often seem emotionally distant even to close friends despite his boundless enthusiasm and general warmth.

Being an Almanac Singer was a job that Pete Seeger was virtually born into. His father, the avant-garde composer Charles Seeger, had pioneered dissonant counterpoint and almost single-handedly invented musicology. A Communist in the utopian early days of American communism, even before the Russian Revolution, Charles was part of the elite Composers’ Collective, attempting to write radical twelve-tone music for workers’ choruses. Folk music would arrive like a controversial new technology.

“Communism Is Twentieth-Century Americanism,” ran the American Communist Party’s amorphous new slogan, and Pete joined the Young Communist League when he turned eighteen. At the same time as generation-destroying atrocities unfolded in the Soviet Union, the American Communist Party opened itself as a powerfully antiracist pro-labor entity, arguably the most visible and well-organized outlet for any American of a progressive political persuasion in the late 1930s, establishing social clubs in many communities.

Though the Popular Front was officially abandoned as a party policy in 1939, its influence was incalculable on a generation of American artists, writers, musicians, actors, filmmakers, and cultural workers of all varieties, whether Communist Party members or not. As it happened, the reason for the Popular Front’s official abandonment is precisely what made the Almanac Singers’ “Ballad of October 16th” so contentious: Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler’s shocking nonaggression treaty. Party members were now to be “pro-peace,” as the American Communists spun it, putting them in alignment with right-wing groups like the anti-Semitic America First isolationists.

Many, like Woody Guthrie, continued to view the Communists as the only political party with a committed working-class stance. As Hitler’s forces ravaged Europe, the party line continued to push for peace, framing war as a Capitalist ruse. When Millard Lampell retrofit the cowboy ballad “Jesse James” with his new antiwar lyrics for its debut at the American Youth Congress, it was for an audience well versed in the nuances of contemporary politics.

“We are in the peace army,” Lee Hays declared to the Daily Worker in March 1941, the beginning of the paper’s long love affair with the group. “Remember that a singing army is a winning army.” It was to be a ragtag army.

“Like roving reporters they are on the scene—wherever things are happening,” the Worker enthused a few months later.

If Lee Hays and Pete Seeger often shared political stances and the dream of a singing labor movement, it wasn’t because Hays was a Communist. It was less that he disagreed with Communists than that he disagreed with political parties, and oftentimes, it seemed, just about everybody else. Too much of a constant question-asker to stick to any rigid discipline, it was Lee’s constant analysis that side-tracked many an Almanacking session as he disassembled arguments and song lyrics and life in his slow Arkansas drawl.

Hays found the whole notion of the Almanac Singers being a Communist front to be fairly laughable. “I can’t remember that anybody ever issued any orders,” he would say much later, “certainly not to the Almanacs, that independent bunch of stubborn people. They would not have been subject to orders from anybody. They couldn’t even give themselves orders.” Still, they were embedded deep inside the Popular Front and the machinations of the party. Novelist and Daily Worker columnist—and longtime Seeger hero—Mike Gold could sometimes be found jamming on recorder at the rent parties.

A folk rumble started around New York. On West Forty-Fourth Street, a tiny record store called the Music Room distributed hard-to-find 78s from around the world, almost certainly including Woody’s new Dust Bowl Ballads on New Jersey’s Victor Records. Sensing an emerging new market, Victor had started reissuing recordings of the Carter Family, Uncle Dave Macon, and the Monroe Brothers. That year, as well, Alan Lomax issued his first field recordings from the American South.

The Music Room’s owner was well acquainted with left-wing music. A former treasurer for the Communist magazine New Masses, Eric Bernay had issued a world-famous-among-the-left collection of Spanish Civil War songs in 1940 and, later in 1941, would put out Josh White’s Southern Exposure: An Album of Jim Crow Blues. Though Bernay released Songs for John Doe, the Almanac Singers’ triple 78 debut, he could sense something even more dangerous about it, making the group finance themselves, and removing his own label’s name from the packaging, each side receiving a sticker that simply read “Almanac Record.”

“Within a few weeks, the Almanacs’ record was known from coast to coast in this narrow circle of leftwingers, and peaceniks of one sort or another,” Seeger would remember. The result was shocking, even to a longtime progressive like Eric Bernay. Songs for John Doe was a live wire, transubstantiating controversial political positions instantly into humor and catchy music.


  • "Wasn't That a Time reads more like a Dickens novel than the history of a folk group. God, what a wild ride. And I remember it well."--Alan Arkin, Academy Award-winning actor and author of An Improvised Life
  • "How many synonyms for 'essential cultural history' are there? In an amnesiac America, nothing's overlooked like our dissident legacies--and nothing's needed more these days. Jarnow's book makes this inoculation into good, gossipy fun, and musically knowledgeable enough that you'll want to reach for the soundtrack and fill in all the blanks."--Jonathan Lethem, author of The Feral Detective and Motherless Brooklyn
  • "The Weavers inspired several generations not only to sing but to try to use music to change the world. Jarnow's deep exploration of their journey is a timely reminder of their importance both in their time and ours."--Elijah Wald, author of Dylan Goes Electric! and Escaping the Delta
  • "In a moment when new forms of protest music are desperately needed, Jesse Jarnow's Wasn't That a Time delivers an incredibly vivid account of the kind of dedication and bravery required to change people's minds and galvanize a community through the power of song."--Ryan Walsh, author of Astral Weeks
  • "A well-researched music biography best read with some traditional American folk songs playing in the background."—Kirkus Reviews
  • "[A] dramatic, raucous account...Detailed and smartly reported, this work marvelously captures the four voices in a complex era that influenced pop-folk bands that followed."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
  • "Extensively researched, Jarnow's deep and accomplished portrait of these iconic musicians reverberates with a mastery that will appeal to both fans and everyone interested in the history of music."
  • "Explores...the creative, idiosyncratic, difficult personalities who briefly bottled lightning and subsequently transformed American music from Bob Dylan's output to schoolhouse sing-alongs...For fans of the Weavers and those they influenced, as well as lovers of 20th-century American folk music."
    Library Journal
  • "Chronicles the rise, fall and resurgence of one of the most influential bands in music history."—Music Connection
  • "Wasn't That A Time does an impressive job of pulling together an array of diverse sources, from secret government files to private journals, painting a rich portrait of the strange days that the Weavers helped define...Every page of Wasn't That A Time is filled with revelations, all told with Jarnow's now-signature freewheeling style. A fantastic read."—Aquarium Drunkard
  • "An engaging account of the rise, fall, resurrection and legacy of the Weavers...[Jarnow] captures the distinctive personalities and the intertwining voices."—New York Times Book Review
  • "Jarnow has a gift for remapping historical terrain you thought you knew every feature of already. This time it's the folk movement of the '40s and '50s and the scourge of McCarthyism he brings vividly to life."—CityPages
  • "Jarnow covers the rise, fall and overall legacy of The Weavers in a comprehensive way that no one has done before in print, making this a must-read for any fan of past and/or present folk music."—The Hype
  • "An inspiring story of performers dedicated to fighting the good fight, whatever the costs."—Record Collector

On Sale
Nov 6, 2018
Page Count
304 pages
Da Capo Press

Jesse Jarnow

Jesse Jarnow

About the Author

Jesse Jarnow is the author of Big Day Coming: Yo La Tengo and the Rise of Indie Rock and Heads: A Biography of Psychedelic America. His writing on music, technology, and culture has appeared in the Times (London), the Village Voice, Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, Wired.com, Relix (contributing editor), Dupree’s Diamond News, and elsewhere. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, and hosts The Frow Show on the independent Jersey City radio station WFMU. He tweets via @bourgwick and @HeadsNews.

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