Obituaries

Izzy Young, who presided over the folk revival, dies at 90

Izzy Young, whose Greenwich Village shop, the Folklore Center, was the beating heart of the midcentury folk music revival — and who in 1961 presented the first New York concert by a young Bob Dylan — died Monday at his home in Stockholm. He was 90. His death was confirmed by his daughter, Philomène Grandin.

Anyone wanting to capture the essence of the times could do far worse than head to the Folklore Center, at 110 Macdougal St., between Bleecker and West Third streets. Established in 1957, it was nominally a music store, selling records, books, instruments, sheet music, and fan magazines, most sprung from sweat and mimeograph machines, like Sing Out!, Caravan, and Gardyloo.

In actual practice, the center was also equal parts hiring hall; Schwab’s Pharmacy, where young hopefuls awaited discovery; matchbox recital space for organized performances and impromptu jam sessions; nerve center for gossip on a par with any small-town barbershop; and forum for continuing, crackling debate on the all-consuming subject of folk music, which thanks in no small part to Mr. Young was enjoying wide, renewed attention.

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“I began hanging out at the Folklore Center, the citadel of Americana folk music,” Dylan wrote in his memoir “Chronicles: Volume One” (2004), recalling his arrival in New York in 1961. “The small store was up a flight of stairs and the place had an antique grace. It was like an ancient chapel, like a shoebox sized institute.”

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Crackling loudest above the din was Mr. Young, who, with his horn-rimmed glasses, prodigious vocal capacity and bottomless cornucopia of opinion, was the platonic, genially abrasive New York nebbish from Central Casting.

“His voice was like a bulldozer and always seemed too loud for the little room,” Dylan wrote. “Izzy was always a little rattled over something or other. He was sloppily good-natured. In reality a romantic. To him, folk music glittered like a mound of gold. It did for me, too.”

Until he closed the shop in 1973 to move to Stockholm and start a similar center, Mr. Young reigned supreme as a handicapper (“The first few times I met Dylan, I wasn’t that impressed,” he said. “But as he began writing those great songs, I realized he was really something”); an impresario (he organized hundreds of concerts throughout the city, including Dylan’s first formal appearance, at the Carnegie Hall complex, as well as performances by the New Lost City Ramblers, Dave Van Ronk, Jean Ritchie and Phil Ochs); and an evangelist who almost single-handedly put the “Folk” in Folk City, the storied Village nightclub.

He was also a writer, with a regular column in Sing Out!; a broadcaster, with a folk music show on WBAI in New York; an agitator (in 1961, he helped organize successful public protests after the city banned folk music from Washington Square Park); a ferocious keeper of the castle (“He was even known to throw people out of his store,” Dick Weissman, a former member of folk group the Journeymen, wrote, “simply because they irritated him”); and an equally ferocious defender of the faith. (Mr. Young repudiated Dylan after he began wielding an electric guitar in the mid-’60s.)

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Mr. Young, in short, was the original folknik — quite literally, for it was he who had coined the term, in the late 1950s, as attested by the Oxford English Dictionary.

Israel Goodman Young was born March 26, 1928, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and reared in the Bronx. His parents, Philip and Pola, were Jewish immigrants from Poland.

Then, while a student at the Bronx High School of Science, he was smitten by folk dancing, becoming a member of the American Square Dance Group. The company, founded in New York by folklorist and teacher Margot Mayo, revived traditional dances of many kinds.

The dances led him to folk music, and he was soon collecting books on the subject. He attended Brooklyn College but did not finish.

In the mid-1950s, after working for several years at Borough Park Shomer Shabbos, the bakery his father had established in Brooklyn, Mr. Young became a dealer in rare folk-music books. His private clients included Harry Belafonte and Burl Ives.

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He opened the Folklore Center in April 1957, and it quickly became a mecca for pleasurable activity of all kinds.

“Drugs weren’t allowed,” Mr. Young told the newspaper The Weekend Australian in 2013. “But every time you opened the toilet door a big cloud of purple smoke would waft out.”

The Folklore Center moved to Sixth Avenue in 1965. Eight years later, after being transfixed by traditional Swedish fiddle music, Mr. Young closed the store and relocated to Stockholm, where he opened the Folklore Centrum.

In addition to Grandin, Mr. Young is survived by a son, Thilo Egenberger, and three grandchildren.

Mr. Young was the subject of a documentary, “Izzy Young: Talking Folklore Center” (1989), directed by Jim Downing. His Sing Out! columns and other articles were anthologized in “The Conscience of the Folk Revival: The Writings of Israel ‘Izzy’ Young” (2013), edited by Scott Barretta.

Perhaps Mr. Young’s most memorable achievement came in presenting Dylan’s first New York concert, at Carnegie Chapter Hall — a space of about 200 seats above what is now Weill Recital Hall, on West 57th Street — on Nov. 4, 1961. The program included Woody Guthrie’s “1913 Massacre” and Roy Acuff’s “Freight Train Blues.”

Though the concert is now considered a landmark, Mr. Young, who charged $2 a ticket, lost money.

“There were only 53 people there,” he told an interviewer in 2004. “Now 3,000 people remember it well.”