Friday, 10 April 2015

I is for Ives

Burl Ives was an American actor, writer, and folk singer; best known for his banjo playing.  He grew up in rural Illinois, where he began a life-long involvement with the Boy Scouts as well as showing a talent for music.   After dropping out of college during his second year, he claimed that he was wasting his time there and wanted to do other things.

Ives spent much of the 1930s traveling around the United States, playing gigs on his banjo.  In 1940 he started his own radio show to showcase his music, which led to associations with contemporaries Woody Guthrie, Will Geer, and Pete Seeger.  After a brief stint in the U.S. Army he went to New York to work in radio, which cemented his career as a musician and enabled him to get small parts in films.

In the 1950s he was blacklisted as being suspected of having Communist ties; his subsequent pro-U.S. testimony in court allowed him to continue to work but caused a long-standing rift between him and his fellow folk singers, Pete Seeger in particular.  After this he chose to expand his appearances in film and television.  Thereafter his popularity increased, and he continued to record music as well as work in Hollywood.  One of his best-known roles remains the voice of Sam the Snowman in the 1964 animated special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

His career wound down in the 1970's due to shifting musical demographics, but he remained active in his later years, until he was diagnosed with oral cancer in 1994.  Deciding against invasive treatment, he chose to spend his last days at his home; he died in the spring of 1995.  Among his many accolades was a Grammy Award for Best Country and Western Recording (1963), and the University of Pennsylvania Glee Club Award of Merit (1975), honoring his influence on American vocal music.

The following tune is from the album "Walt Disney Presents Burl Ives' Animal Folk" of which I had a copy when I was a child.

The Black and White Pigeon with the Eight Red Toes

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