The Weavers Biography
The Weavers were an immensely popular and influential folk music quartet from Greenwich Village, New York, United States.
The Weavers group was formed in 1947 by Ronnie Gilbert, Lee Hays, Fred Hellerman and Pete Seeger. A fifth member, Erik Darling, sometimes sat in with the group when Seeger was unavailable. The name came from an 1892 drama of the same name by Gerhart Hauptmann. After a period of finding themselves unable to find much, if any paid work, they finally achieved a performance slot at the jazz club the Village Vanguard. This led to their discovery by arranger Gordon Jenkins and their signing with Decca Records. The group had a big hit in 1949 with Leadbelly's Goodnight Irene, backed with the 1941 Israeli folk song Tzena, Tzena, Tzena.
The Weavers sang traditional folk songs from around the world, as well as blues, folk, gospel music, children's songs, labor songs and ballads from the US, selling millions of records at the height of their popularity. They inspired the commercial "folk boom" that followed them in the 1950s and 1960s, including such acts as The Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul and Mary.
The Weavers avoided the more controversial songs in their repertoire, as well as avoiding performing at controversial venues and events, and the leftwing press derided them as having sold out their beliefs in exchange for popular success. Despite their caution, they were placed under FBI surveillance and blacklisted by the US government during the McCarthy era. The Weavers were targeted because of their history of singing protest songs and folk songs favoring labor unions as well as for the leftist political beliefs of the individuals in the group. Anti-communists protested at their performances and harassed promoters. The Weavers were an easy target because of their fame and popularity on the radio and with the record-buying public. Soon after their being targeted by the authorities, the group's popularity diminished rapidly, and their record contract was terminated.
Pete Seeger continued his solo career after the group disbanded in 1952. In 1955, the group reunited to play a sold-out concert at Carnegie Hall, a venue whose management was unaware of the controversy surrounding the group. The concert was a huge success, a recording of which was issued by Vanguard Records and led to their signing to that record label (by the late 1950s, folk music was becoming popular and anti-communism was fading). Seeger left the group to return to his solo career, and the Weavers continued without him. After Eric Darling left the group, he was replaced by Frank Hamilton and then, briefly, the very young Bernie Krause.
Of the other Weavers, Lee Hays died in 1981, while 85-year-old Pete Seeger does not travel much these days. Ronnie Gilbert has had a solo career as well. Additional reunion concerts were staged in 1964 and 1980. A documentary film about the history of the group, the reunion concert, and the events leading up to it called The Weavers: Wasn't That a Time! was released in 1982. The group was inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2001.
In February 2006 The Weavers received the Lifetime Achievement Award given out annually at the Grammy awards show. Represented by members Ronnie Gilbert and Fred Hellerman, they struck a chord with the crowd as their struggles with political witch hunts during the 1950s were recounted. "If you can exist, and stay the course -- not a course of blind obstinacy and faulty conception -- but one of decency and good sense, you can outlast your enemies with your honor and integrity intact," said Hellerman.