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Izzy Young, Center To The Folk Music Revival, Dies At 90

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Izzy Young in Sept. 2007.
Frank Beacham, Courtesy of Frank Beacham

Izzy Young in Sept. 2007.

Izzy Young made his mark as a major force in the folk music scene in New York City starting in the 1950s. Young died Monday, Feb. 4, in Stockholm. He was 90.

Raised in the Bronx, Young was passionate about folk dancing and his dive into folk music followed. "Those folk songs told me about my life," Young said in a 2004 interview from the Museum of Pop Culture archives. "And other people's lives. Stories that I could understand."

In 1957, Young opened the Folklore Center on MacDougal Street in Manhattan's Greenwich Village. It became a magnet for young folkies. Mitch Blank was a regular there when he was a teenager.

"They would come to the Folklore Center as part of a haaj, a pilgrimage in the era when MacDougal Street was, like, the center of the universe," Blank says.

The folkies who showed up included Bob Dylan, Dave Van Ronk, Joni Mitchell and the Traum Brothers, Happy and Artie. Happy Traum was in the the Folklore Center on opening day.

"The Folklore Center was kind of like a clubhouse for us," Traum remembers. "It was a place where we could go and hang out, gossip, hear music, jam in the back room. Izzy was very tolerant of all us kids taking instruments off the walls and leafing through magazines without buying them."

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Young was also an autocrat who was known to throw people out of the store he found irritating. "Izzy was kind of like the lord of the manor," Traum says. "We learned to love him. He was just such a character and had opinions about everything."

Young convinced the owner of a nearby restaurant to book folk performers in a back room and that space became Folk City, the most influential folk venue in New York. Young staged concerts himself, usually charging $1.50 and splitting the profits with performers. He produced the first New York concerts of Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Tim Buckley, who recorded an album at the Folklore Center.

In 1961, New York officials banned music in Greenwich Village's Washington Square Park. Young helped organize a protest, as he told NPR in 2011. "I say, 'OK, now we're going to start singing some folk songs.' And I have everybody singing the 'Star Spangled Banner.' I said, 'They can't hit us on the head while we're doing that,' " Young said.

Young closed the Folklore Center in 1973 and moved to Stockholm, Sweden after becoming enthralled with traditional Swedish fiddle music. He ran that shop and staged concerts until just last year.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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