Charles Darling on Folk Music

My interest in folk music began when I was growing up in North Abington, Massachusetts. The family had purchased a console radio complete with FM. After I installed an aerial on our roof, I discovered a 15-minute folk music program over a New Bedford FM station hosted by a local teenager, Paul Clayton. The music was different from the classical and popular music that I heard in my home and it sparked my interest. I even recorded Clayton on a disc recorder I purchased with money made delivering newspapers. But when I moved with my parents to Youngstown, folk music competed with my studies at Youngstown College, where I majored in history and education. Upon graduation, I was drafted into the army and there, on a small record player, I listened to ten inch LPs by Burl Ives. Later, while pursuing a History MA at Ohio University, a course in American social and cultural history broadened my interest in the folk music genre. It would be strengthened further while on a teaching scholarship at Pennsylvania State University. There, I heard a student-run folk show on the university’s FM station and called to complain that the music was limited and poorly organized. They replied: “If you can do better, you run the show.” I took them up on that and for almost two years played Joan Baez, Ed McCurdy, Pete Seeger and more.

Returning to the Youngstown area to teach history and economics at Springfield Local High School, I persuaded the general manager of WPIC-FM to offer a 30-minute “Folk Festival” following the station’s “Music of the Masters” on Sunday nights until that station changed formats. Hired to teach in the History Department by President Howard Jones of Youngstown College, it was not long until I convinced Professor Donald Elser and station manager Steve Grcevich to let me host “Folk Festival” on Saturday from 10 to 10:30 p.m. beginning November 1, 1969, a few weeks after the station first went on the air. “Folk Festival” would eventually be expanded to 60 minutes and finally to 90 minutes on Sunday evenings from 8 to 9:30. Station manager Robert Peterson asked me to host a Folk Festival Concert, and this yearly event continued under Gary Sexton until a few years ago.

Folk music was incorporated into my survey of American history classes at the university, in addition to my special courses in folk music on both the undergraduate and graduate level. To supplement the courses, I compiled The New American Songster: Traditional Ballads and Songs of North America, published by University Press of America in 1983 and revised in l99l. Later, I edited Messages of Dissent: Struggle Songs in American History.

Is folk music dead? The folk revival craze of the 1950s fizzled out about l970, but the music is far from dead. It continues to reverberate today. Just ask the young people at sold out concerts of the Lumineers, Mumford and Sons, and Old Crow Medicine Show. I like to think that “Folk Festival” over WYSU-FM has helped keep the “music of the people” in all its forms- blues, country, traditional, contemporary- alive in northeastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania.

By: Charles Darling