Chicago and the Folk Music Revival, 1957-1970: A Tale of Two Key Figures – Ray Flerlage and Win Stracke

Chicago in the Folk Music Revival: Popular Performers

The Old Town School of Folk Music, the University of Chicago Folk Festival, and the many folk clubs and coffeehouses hosted a varied array of performers.  It would be impossible to identify and feature all of them; however, the following performers were perennial favorites around the city.

Bob Gibson (1931-1996)

Born in Brooklyn and raised in the New York City area, Gibson moved to Chicago in the mid-1950s and began working the city’s emerging folk clubs.  Within a few years, he was a headliner at such popular venues as the Gate of Horn.  His performances featured an engaging stage presence, clear vocals, and mastery of the banjo and 12-string guitar. 

Odetta (1930-2008)

Odetta Holmes, born in Birmingham, Alabama, performed only by her first name.  Blessed with a large, operatic voice and an equally large social consciousness, she was often called “The Voice of the Civil Rights Movement.”  She had a long career as a solo folk performer, opera singer, actress, and social activist.

Ella Jenkins (1924- )

Ella Jenkins, 94 years old as of late 2018, is known widely for her love and promotion of children’s music.  Throughout her career, her concerts have featured rhythm and call-and-response participation from her audiences.  She has also been a prolific recording artist, with, at last count, 39 albums to her credit.  She continued to be an active musician well into her 90s.

Steve Goodman (1948-1984)

Goodman came on the Chicago scene toward the end of the 1960s while a student at Lake Forest College.  From that time until his untimely death at age 36 he was an active performer with a dynamic stage presence, creative guitar skills, and an expressive voice.  He was also a fine songwriter, with his best-known song being “The City of New Orleans".

Big Bill Broonzy (1903-1958)

Broonzy was on the “front end” of Chicago’s folk revival.  Although he died in 1958, his impact on the city’s folk scene was lasting.  Best known for writing the blues standard, “Key to the Highway,” Big Bill became an all-around “songster” whose repertoire included ragtime, jazz, spirituals, and folk.  He joined Win Stracke and Studs Terkel in the early 1950s in a popular folk music revue called “I Come For to Sing.”