Izzy Young, Center To The Folk Music Revival, Dies At 90 Bob Dylan has called Izzy Young's Folklore Center "the citadel of Americana folk music." It was at the center of the folk music revival in New York City in the 1950s and '60s. Young died Feb. 4 at 90.

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

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A key figure in New York's folk music scene of the 1950s has died. His name was Izzy Young. Bob Dylan wrote in his memoir that Young's store, the Folklore Center, was the citadel of Americana folk music. Young also produced concerts by the likes of Phil Ochs and Jean Ritchie. Reporter Jon Kalish has an appreciation of Izzy Young, who died Monday at the age of 90.

JON KALISH, BYLINE: Bob Dylan once described Izzy Young's voice as sounding like a bulldozer. It was a Jewish bulldozer from the Bronx. He first became passionate about folk dancing. His dive into folk music followed. Here's Young in a 2004 interview from the Museum of Pop Culture archive.


IZZY YOUNG: Those folk songs told me about my life and other people's lives, stories that I could understand. (Singing) A rich, old woman in our town, in our town did dwell. She loved her husband dearly but another's twice as well. So you get the whole story in 12 words or something.

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

MITCH BLANK: They would come to the Folklore Center as part of a hajj, a pilgrimage in the era when MacDougal Street was, like, the center of the universe.

KALISH: The folkies who showed up included Bob Dylan, Dave Van Ronk, Joni Mitchell and the Traum brothers Happy and Artie. Speaking via Skype, Happy Traum says he was in the Folklore Center on opening day.

HAPPY TRAUM: The Folklore Center was kind of a clubhouse for us. 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 the instruments off the walls and leafing through magazines without buying them.

KALISH: Young was also an autocrat who was known to throw people out of the store he found irritating.

TRAUM: Izzy was kind of like the lord of the manor. We learned to love him. He was just such a character and had opinions about everything.

KALISH: Young convinced the owner of a nearby restaurant to book folk performers in the 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 door with performers.


YOUNG: I wasn't selling anything - no beer, no Coca-Cola. It wasn't comfortable. I had benches that I built myself, and people would get up after two hours, and they would be crippled. And I never ever got a complaint.


KALISH: He had a hand in the first New York concerts of Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, who drew just 32 people, and Tim Buckley, who recorded an album at the Folklore Center.


TIM BUCKLEY: (Singing) Got the untortured mind of a woman who has answered all the questions before.

KALISH: In 1961, New York officials banned music in Greenwich Village's Washington Square Park. Izzy Young helped organize a protest, as he told NPR in 2011.


YOUNG: 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.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTORS: (Singing) Oh, say, can you see...

KALISH: Young's friend, Mitch Blank, says there should be a memorial.

BLANK: I propose a statue of Izzy Young in Washington Square Park to commence immediately.

KALISH: Izzy 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. For NPR News, I'm Jon Kalish in New York.


BUCKLEY: (Singing) And Jainie, don't you know, I've been tryin'. Jainie, don't you know?

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