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 Weavers, the chart-topping American folk music quartet whose populist politics made them a target for jingoist McCarthyites, are recast as a crucial fulcrum in America's postwar culture battles in this dramatic, raucous account from Jarnow (Big Day Coming). In 1940, Arkansas songwriter and bass singer Lee Hays teamed up with folk scholar and banjo picker Pete Seeger to perform rediscovered folk ditties and protest songs, which they amassed as the Almanac Singers during WWII. Later, the duo added the rich voice of utopian socialist Ronnie Gilbert and the pop-attuned sensibilities of guitarist Fred Hellerman to form the Weavers in 1948. The group built a deep repertoire in New York City's bubbling folk scene, jamming at impromptu "hootenannies" and various political fund-raisers. Jarnow tracks their ascent on the charts with hits such as "Goodnight, Irene" and "Wimoweh" that "would continue to float through the American folk ether" and inspire groups as different as the Kingston Trio and the Grateful Dead. Despite's Seeger forceful stand against HUAC questioning, political harassment forced the members to disband in 1961. Detailed and smartly reported, this work marvelously captures the four voices in a complex era that influenced pop-folk bands that followed.