Guy Carawan ( July 27, 1927 - May 2, 2015) was an American folk musician and musicologist. He served as music director and song leader for the Highlander Research and Education Center in New Market, Tennessee.
Carawan is famous for introducing the protest song "We Shall Overcome" to the American Civil Rights Movement, by teaching it to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1960. A union organizing song based on a black spiritual, it had been a favorite of Zilphia Horton (d. 1956) wife of the founder of the Highlander Folk School. Carawan reintroduced it at the school when he became its new music director in 1959. The song is copyrighted in the name of Horton, Frank Hamilton, Carawan and Pete Seeger.
Carawan sang and played banjo, guitar, and hammered dulcimer. He frequently performed and recorded with his wife, singer Candie Carawan. Occasionally he was accompanied by their son Evan Carawan, who plays mandolin and hammered dulcimer. Carawan and his wife lived in New Market, near the Highlander Center.
Carawan was born in California in 1927, to Southern parents. His mother, from Charleston, South Carolina, was the resident poet at Winthrop College (now Winthrop University) in Rock Hill, South Carolina, and his father, a veteran of World War I from North Carolina who worked as an asbestos contractor. He earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Occidental College in 1949 and a master's degree in sociology from UCLA. Through his friend Frank Hamilton, Carawan was introduced to musicians in the People's Songs network, including Pete Seeger and The Weavers. Moving to New York City, he became involved with the American folk music revival in Greenwich Village in the 1950s. He also traveled abroad, visiting England, attending a World Festival of Youth and Students in the Soviet Union in 1957, and continuing on to the People's Republic of China.
Carawan first visited the Highlander Folk School in 1953, with singers Ramblin' Jack Elliot and Frank Hamilton. At the recommendation of Pete Seeger, he returned in 1959 as a volunteer, taking charge of the music program pioneered by Zilphia Horton, who had died in an accident in 1956. When college students in Greensboro, NC, began the lunch-counter sit-in movement on Feb 1, 1960, Highlander's youth program took on a new urgency. Highlander's seventh annual college workshop took place on the first weekend in April, with 83 students from twenty colleges attending. As part of a talent show and dance, Carawan taught the students the song "We Shall Overcome." Two weeks later, on April 15, two hundred students assembled in Raleigh, NC, for a three-day conference at Shaw University. Called by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to develop a youth wing, the students instead organized the independent Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). They invited Carawan to lead the singing, and he closed the first evening with "We Shall Overcome." The audience stood, linked hands and sang—and went away inspired, carrying the song to meetings and demonstrations across the South.
According to his wife Candie, one of Guy's most important roles during the Civil Rights Movement—more so than introducing "We Shall Overcome" as a Freedom Song—was his desire to record and archive the evolution of the movement through song. Both Guy and Candie believe that the political usage of religious and folk music could shape movements and influence people to take action in social change, and Guy's initiative to record and preserve the already established Freedom Songs within the movement are used to inspire and to educate future leaders and activists. Movement leader Rev. C. T. Vivian, a lieutenant of Martin Luther King reminisced:
I don’t think we had ever thought of spirituals as movement material. When the movement came up, we couldn’t apply them. The concept has to be there. It wasn’t just to have the music but to take the music out of our past and apply it to the new situation, to change it so it really fit…. The first time I remember any change in our songs was when Guy came down from Highlander. Here he was with this guitar and tall thin frame, leaning forward and patting that foot. I remember James Bevel and I looked across at each other and smiled. Guy had taken this song, "Follow the Drinking Gourd" – I didn't know the song, but he gave some background on it and boom – that began to make sense. And, little by little, spiritual after spiritual began to appear with new words and changes: “"Keep Your Eyes on the Prize", "Hold On" or "I’m Going to Sit at the Welcome Table". Once we had seen it done, we could begin to do it.
At Highlander's April workshop, Carawan had met Candie Anderson, an exchange student at Fisk University in Nashville, from Pomona College in California, who was one of the first white students involved in the sit-in movement. They were married in March 1961.
Carawan first heard the hammer dulcimer played by Chet Parker. In turn, Carawan introduced both John McCutcheon and Malcolm Dalglish to the instrument.
Guy and Candie Carawan, compilers, We Shall Overcome! (New York: Oak Publications, 1963).
Guy and Candie Carawan, recorders and editors, photographed by Robert Yellin, Ain't You Got a Right to the Tree of Life? The People of Johns Island, South Carolina – their faces, their words and their songs (1966; University of Georgia Press, 1989). ISBN 0-8203-1132-4
Guy and Candie Carawan, compilers, Freedom is a Constant Struggle (New York: Oak Publications, 1968).
Guy and Candie Carawan, collectors and recorders, Voices from the Mountains: Life and Struggle in the Appalachian South (1975; University of Georgia Press, 1996). ISBN 0-8203-1882-5
Guy and Candie Carawan, editors and compilers, Sing for Freedom: The Story of the Civil Rights Movement through Its Songs (Bethlehem, PA: Sing Out Corp., 1990, 1992; NewSouth Books, 2008). ISBN 978-1-58838-193-4 (incorporates We Shall Overcome! and Freedom is a Constant Struggle above)
Documentary Recording Projects
May Justus, The Carawan Recordings, summer 1953, Horton living room in Monteagle, TN; 1961 at May's Summerfield home. Recorded by Guy Carawan; published in 2011 by Tennessee Folklore Society and Jubilee Community Arts.
Nashville Sit-In Story. Folkways Records, FH#5590, 1960. Recorded by Guy Carawan, assisted by Mel Kaiser at Cue Studio.
Hamper McBee, Cumberland Moonshiner. Prestige Records, 1965. Recorded by Guy Carawan in Knoxville, TN, April 6, 1962.
Freedom in the Air: Albany Georgia, 1961–62. SNCC #101. Produced by Vanguard Records for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Recorded by Guy Carawan. Produced by Guy Carawan & Alan Lomax.
We Shall Overcome, Songs of Freedom Riders and the Sit-Ins. Folkways Records, FH#5591, 1963. Includes Nashville Quartet and Montgomery Trio. Recorded in New York City.
Birmingham, Alabama, 1963. Mass Meeting. Folkways Records, FD#5487, 1980. Includes Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph Abernathy, Birmingham Movement Choir. Recorded by Guy Carawan in Birmingham, AL.
The Story of Greenwood, Mississippi. Folkways Records, FD#5593, 1965. Includes Bob Moses, Fannie Lou Hamer, Medgar Evers, Dick Gregory. Recorded by Guy Carawan in Greenwood, MS.
Sea Island Folk Festival: Moving Star Hall Singers. Folkways Records, FS#3841, 1966. Includes Alan Lomax speaking at festival. Recorded and produced by Guy & Candie Carawan.
Been in the Storm So Long: Spirituals, Shouts, Folk Tales and Children’s Songs of Johns Island, South Carolina. Folkways Records, FS#3842, 1967. Recorded and produced by Guy & Candie Carawan.
Earl Gilmore: From the Depths of My Soul. June Appal Recordings, JA0022, 1967. Produced and edited by Guy Carawan for June Appal Recordings. Includes Rupert Oysler on harmonica. Recorded by Jack Wright and Jeff Kiser.
Come All You Coal Miners. Rounder Records, #4005, 1974. Includes Nimrod Workman, Sarah Gunning, George Tucker, Hazel Dickens. Recorded by Roger and Lucy Phenix at Appalachian Music Workshop at Highlander Center, October 1972. Produced by Guy Carawan.
George Tucker, Kentucky Coal Miner. Rounder Records, #0064, 1975. Collected and recorded by Guy Carawan in Beaver, KY.
China: Music from the Peoples’ Republic. Rounder Records, #4008, CD, 1976. Recorded in China by Guy and Candie Carawan.
Sing for Freedom, Southwide Workshop. Folkways Records, FD#5488, 1980. Produced by Guy & Candie Carawan, Highlander Center. Recorded at the Gammon Theological Seminary in Atlanta, GA, at a workshop with Freedom Singers, Birmingham Movement Choir, Georgia Sea Island Singers, Doc Reese, Phil Ochs, and Len Chandler.
They'll Never Keep Us Down: Women’s coal mining songs. Rounder Records, #4012, 1983. Includes Hazel Dickens, Sarah Gunning, Florence Reece, Phyllis Boyens, Reel World String Band. Dedicated to Sarah Gunning who died November 14, 1983. Produced by Guy & Candie Carawan for Rounder.
Sing for Freedom. Smithsonian Folkways, SF#40032, CD, 1990. A compilation of material from the six LPs. Selected by Guy & Candie Carawan.
Been in the Storm So Long. Smithsonian Folkways, SF#40031, CD, 1990. A compilation of material from the two LPs. Selected by Guy & Candie Carawan.
Coal Mining Women. Rounder Records, #4025, CD, 1997. Selections from two previous coal LPs. Conceived and selected by Guy and Candie Carawan.
Songs with Guy Carawan, vol. 1, Folkways Records, FG 3544, 1950.
Guy Carawan Sings: Something Old, New, Borrowed and Blue, Folkways Records, FG 3548, 1959.
This Little Light of Mine, Folkways Records, FG 3552, 1960.
The Best of Guy Carawan, Prestige International, #13013, 1961.
A Guy Called Carawan, E.M.I. Records, Middlesex, England, SX 6065, 1965.
Freedom Now! Songs for a New America (with Candie Carawan), Plane Records, Germany, #55301, 1968.
The Telling Takes Me Home, Cur Non Records, cnl 722, 1972.
Sitting on Top of the World & Mountain Songs (double album), Intercord Xenophon, Germany, Int. 181.012, 1974.
Sitting on Top of the World, American version (with Candie Carawan), self produced, 1975.
Green Rocky Road, June Appal Recordings, JA 0021, 1976.
Jubilee, June Appal Recordings, JA 0029, 1979.
Songs of Struggle and Celebration, Flying Fish Records, FC 27272, 1982.
My Rhinoceros and Other Friends, (children's songs), A Gentle Wind, GW 1023, 1983.
High on a Mountain, self-produced (cassette only), 1984.
Hammer Dulcimer Music (with Evan Carawan), Flying Fish Records, FF 329, 1984.
The Land Knows You're There, Flying Fish Records, FF 391, 1986.
Old Blue & Other Favorites, self-produced (cassette only), 1990.
Tree of Life (Arbol de La Vida), Flying Fish Records, FF 525, 1990.
Homebrew (The Carawan Family), Flying Fish Records, FF 609, 1992.
Sparkles & Shines, Ponder Productions, 1999.
Included on Albums with Others
Several albums released in England in the late 1950s, including America at Play with Peggy Seeger.
Songs for Peace, Folk Freak Records, FF 4010, 1983.
I'm Gonna Let it Shine: A Gathering of Voices for Freedom, Round River Records, RRR 401, 1990.
Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Songs of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement, Folk Era, FE 1419, 1994.
Classic Protest Songs from Smithsonian Folkways, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, SFW40197, 2009.
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