23 August 1900
San Francisco, California, United States
17 March 1978 (aged 77)
Malvina Reynolds (August 23, 1900 – March 17, 1978) was an American folk/blues singer-songwriter and political activist, best known for her song-writing, particularly the songs "Little Boxes" and "Morningtown Ride."
Malvina Milder was born in San Francisco to David and Abagail Milder, Jewish and socialist immigrants, who opposed involvement in World War I.
She married William ("Bud") Reynolds, a carpenter and labor organizer, in 1934. They had one child, Nancy Reynolds Schimmel (a songwriter and performer in her own right), in 1935. Malvina had earned her Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts in English from the University of California, Berkeley, and later earned a doctorate there, finishing her dissertation in 1938.
Though she played violin in a dance band in her twenties, she began her songwriting career late in life. She was in her late 40s when she met Earl Robinson, Pete Seeger, and other folk singers and songwriters. She returned to school at UC Berkeley, where she studied music theory. She went on to write several popular songs, including "Little Boxes," recorded by Pete Seeger, Walk off the Earth and others, "What Have They Done to the Rain," recorded by The Searchers, The Seekers, Marianne Faithfull, Melanie Safka and Joan Baez (about nuclear fallout), "It Isn't Nice" (a civil rights anthem), "Turn Around" (about children growing up, later sung by Harry Belafonte), and "There's a Bottom Below" (about depression). Reynolds was also a noted composer of children's songs, including "Magic Penny" (a traditional London folk song during the 1940s) and "Morningtown Ride," a top five UK single (December 1966) recorded by The Seekers.
Four collections of her music are available on compact disc. The Smithsonian Folkways label released Another County Heard From (Folkways 02524) and Ear to the Ground (Smithsonian Folkways 40124), and the Omni Recording Corporation in Australia issued Malvina Reynolds (Omni 112) and Malvina Reynolds Sings the Truth (Omni 114).
A film biography, Love It Like a Fool, was made a few years before she died in 1978. Reynolds' most famous song, "Little Boxes" (made famous by Pete Seeger), has enjoyed renewed popularity by being featured in Showtime's TV series Weeds. "Little Boxes" was inspired visually by the houses of Daly City, California. Nancy Reynolds Schimmel, daughter of Malvina Reynolds, explained:
"My mother and father were driving South from San Francisco through Daly City when my mom got the idea for the song. She asked my dad to take the wheel, and she wrote it on the way to the gathering in La Honda where she was going to sing for the Friends Committee on Legislation. When Time Magazine (I think, maybe Newsweek) wanted a photo of her pointing to the very place, she couldn't find those houses because so many more had been built around them that the hillsides were totally covered."
In her later years, Malvina Reynolds contributed songs and material to PBS's Sesame Street, on which she made occasional appearances as a character called "Kate."
In 1979, the Supersisters trading card set was produced and distributed; one of the cards featured Reynolds's name and picture.
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