Skip to main content

Burl Ives,the Wayfaring Stranger, Rift With Folk Singer Pete Seeger over communist blacklisting

Burl Ives and album ""The times They Are A-Changin'"

Burl Ives and album ""The times They Are A-Changin'"

Wayfaring Stranger

I am a poor wayfaring stranger

A-trav'ling through this land of woe.
And there's no sickness, toil or danger
In that bright world to which I go.
I'm going home to see my father (mother, sister, brother etc.)
I'm going there no more to roam;
I'm just a-going over Jordan
I'm just a-going over home.

Burl Ives used this song as a sort of theme song. It seems fitting for many of the old wandering minstrels such as Ives, Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger.

To folks my age and older, who predate the 1960’s, Burl Ives would have been the most recognizable name to come to when folk music was mentioned.

I feel fortunate to have attended what might have been his last concert. It was in Davenport, Iowa. We had reservations to attend another one coming up, but it was cancelled. Not too long after we heard he had died, which would have been in 1995.

Burl Ives

As I recall the audience was held spellbound by this man performing by himself. Sitting on a stool singing and playing a guitar. His voice was still strong at that time.

“One of the inescapable mysteries of the folk boom of the 1960s has been how one of the undisputed parents of the revival, Burl Ives, managed to keep himself completely distant from his progeny.” Milt Okum in “Something to Sing About.”

I think Ives, more than anyone else, brought folk music to a popular audience in the 1940’s and 1950’s. It was ironic that he was not heard from in the 1960’s folk music revival. According to Wikipedia it was related to the politics of the entertainer blacklisting of the 1950’s. Ives was identified as having supposed communist ties. He told them he was not a member of the communist party but had attended meetings with Pete Seeger in order to keep in touch with working folks. He couldn’t tell them who was communist and who wasn’t. They knew who his friends were and they would have to ask them His cooperation ended his blacklisting but led to a rift between Ives and many other folk singers. Pete Seeger felt that Ives had betrayed them A few years before his death Ives and Seeger were reunited in a benefit concert.

Some felt that Ives, who had become a noted actor, was too busy with his acting career to keep up his singing career. Another theory is that many were envious of his success. I’m told that is sometimes a problem with musicians. Something, I believe happened to Bob Dylan when he made a lot of money. Some felt that he did not care for the left-wing elements of the movement. I believe Dylan also tried to keep some distance from the politics of the times.

Although I was a fan of Pete Seeger and had the opportunity to see him in several concerts, I am of a mixed mind to know if Seeger was brave of foolish when he defied the House Un-American Activities Committee. He, in effect, told them off, which I will get into more detail about when I write about him.

Burl Ives was more than a singer and an actor. He was a folklorist who collected songs, stories and sayings. and contributed to the legacy of American folk song by writing some of these things in books. Including: his autobiography entitled “ The Wayfaring Stranger ” in 1948. Other books include The Burl Ives Songbook (1953), Tales of America (1954).

According to Milt Okum, Ives started his career at the age of four when he sang fifteen verses of “Barbara Allen” for an audience. He went to Eastern Illinois Teachers College but left there in 1929 and went on the road a few years after Carl Sandberg and a few years before Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. The late 1920’s and early 1930’s were the beginning and exploration period for that generation of folksingers. It was an interesting period. One anecdote that always struck me was that Ives was thrown in jail in Utah for singing the song “The Foggy Dew .”

In the 1930s he went to New York and started his acting career but continued to record songs. Artistically Ives wavered a bit when he made some recordings in the Nashville style. However, he left a major contribution to the body of American folk music.

All in all he spent a life filled with song, stories, as an actor, and writer. He worked on stage, in film, radio and print.

© 2009 Don A. Hoglund


James A. Drake on May 09, 2017:

Scroll to Continue

Please disregard the post I submitted some 15 minutes ago about "The Foggy Dew," which I erroneously thought was the song that brought Ives trouble. I now see that the song he was performing was "The Foggy, Foggy Dew," a romantic folk-ballad that has no relation to the stirring Irish song, "The Foggy Dew."

James A. Drake on May 09, 2017:

If it can be verified that Burl Ives was thrown in jail in Utah for singing a particular song, it could not have been "The Foggy Dew," which had been a mainstream song even before the esteemed Irish tenor, John McCormack, made a best-selling recording of "The Foggy Dew" for the Victor (later, RCA Victor) Company in January 1913.

Don A. Hoglund (author) from Wisconsin Rapids on December 20, 2014:

Douglas Jack

Thanks for commenting.

Douglas Jack on November 28, 2012:

In the winter February of 1971 I was part of a 4 month course in 'Community, communications & group-dynamics' at the British Columbia Sorrento Center for Human Development. A fellow student Anne & I took a hitchhiking trip to Revelstoke 200 kilometres away. We were picked up by Burl Ives in a truck of his, so had a two hour conversation with him. We talked about life & some of the current events of the time. By chance in 2004, I was giving a workshop on 'Indigenous Economy' to an EF Schumacher organized international meeting 'Local Currencies in the 21st Century at Bard College, New York where Pete Seeger attended the workshop, sang & we enjoyed an hour's conversation. I later read about the tiff between the two engendered by USA, FBI anti-communist hatred & invasion of privacy. Won't it be a day of celebration when those with differences of opinion sit down with their perceived opponents in 'dialectic' ('both-sides') equal-time recorded & published 'debate' (French 'de' = 'undo' + 'bate' = 'the-fight').

Don A. Hoglund (author) from Wisconsin Rapids on December 11, 2011:

Thanks for commenting Tammyswallow. Burl Ives was actually a very good actor.I was glad that I was able to attend one of his last concerts as he had a uniqe styleI believe.

Tammy from North Carolina on December 11, 2011:

Nicely done Dahoglund. I love my Burl Ives records for the holidays. I know him as the narrator on Rudolph the Red Nosed Rained deer also. I LOVE his voice. I didn't realize he had so many other talents and affiliations. Timely and well done!

Don A. Hoglund (author) from Wisconsin Rapids on December 11, 2011:

WD Curry.I can't say I am familiar with the verse you cite.Burl Ives was the folksinger when I grew up. Only later did we start to discover other voices.Then he went into acting.Thanks for commenting.

WD Curry 111 from Space Coast on December 11, 2011:

"Here's a little tip I would like to relate . . . any fish will bite if you have the right bait." Taj Mahal is credited with the verse, but I think I remember Burl Ives singing it on the first B&W TV we had when I was a kid in 1958 or 59. Maybe it is an old traditional song.

I will never forget Burl Ives and the local Everglades City boys in "Wind Over the Everglades". That was an epic movie to a Florida boy.

Where is that blacklist, now, when we really need it? Take it easy . . . I'm joking.

Don A. Hoglund (author) from Wisconsin Rapids on July 13, 2011:

We did have tickets for an upcoming concert as well, but it was cancelled. Not too long after, as I recall, we heard of his death.Seeing him in person just sitting on a stool with a guitar and his voice was very impressive.

Thanks for commenting.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on July 13, 2011:

It must have been thrilling for you to hear him perform at one of his last concerts. Those were dark days for many Americans when the House for Un-American Activites Committee was in full swing. Many people got falsely accused and it hurt their careers.

Don A. Hoglund (author) from Wisconsin Rapids on April 17, 2011:

Seems that Burl Ives may have been the last of the more traditional type of folksinger.He was just part of the general music scene when I grew up. I appreciate the comments and ratings.

Fluffy77 from Enterprise, OR on April 17, 2011:

Myself and my family are big fans of his, we always have been. To bad he had to go through this ordeal. Voted you up here, it's good to stay aware of these things our past great people's.

Don A. Hoglund (author) from Wisconsin Rapids on March 09, 2011:

Thanks tina for commenting. I am not familiar with those two songs. Sorry.

tina on March 08, 2011:

Did anyone ever write in that they recognized the Burl Ives song "Little Lost Angel" or they know the name of album that had that song and a song about the north wind being a baker?

Don A. Hoglund (author) from Wisconsin Rapids on February 16, 2011:

Burl Ives was folk music when i was young.Thanks for commenting.

BkCreative from Brooklyn, New York City on February 16, 2011:

Of course! Burl Ives - I was such a fan way back then. What a nice hub. Thanks a million!

Don A. Hoglund (author) from Wisconsin Rapids on November 17, 2010:

That is part of it but I have also run across the idea of envy because Ives became popular and successful as an actor. Bob Dylan ran into a bit of that when he went from being a poor hippie to a rich hippie overnight.

ahorseback on November 17, 2010:

dahoglund, Burl was great , you have to love his voice. I have found that in the world of succesful artistry, if your not politically correct and liberal , you might not be well recognized. Perhaps it was Burls problem.

Don A. Hoglund (author) from Wisconsin Rapids on October 13, 2010:

Thanks for stopping by and adding your comments.

todd on October 12, 2010:

thanks for sharing...i love burl ives' early recordings very much...just him and his guitar....



Don A. Hoglund (author) from Wisconsin Rapids on July 05, 2010:

Thanks for reading and commenting.

Stacie L on July 04, 2010:

He was one of my favorites!

Don A. Hoglund (author) from Wisconsin Rapids on June 21, 2010:

Thanks for commenting. When I grew up Burl Ives was sort of the face of folkmusic.

Ron Gawthorp from Millboro, Virginia on June 20, 2010:

A great hub. My high scool English teacher. Wildfred Brandt, was an accomplished guitarist and roomed with Burl Ives and Eastern Illinois University. Once each year he brought his guitar to school and sang songs that he, Ives and some others at EIU considered favorites in their nearly nightly jam sessions. Little Bitty Tear and Buster were two of my favorites. And how could we have Christmas music without Burl Ives? Thanks.

Don A. Hoglund (author) from Wisconsin Rapids on March 24, 2010:

Thanks for returning. Ives was part of the music scene when I grew up as well.

Coolmon2009 from Texas, USA on March 24, 2010:

Just re-reading this article; I Enjoyed his songs growing up.

Don A. Hoglund (author) from Wisconsin Rapids on January 04, 2010:

Thanks for reading and commenting.

Coolmon2009 from Texas, USA on January 04, 2010:

I learned a few things about Burl Ives I didn't know - thanks for sharing

Martina R on December 13, 2009:

Does anyone know of the name of a Burl Ives album that included the song "Little Lost Angel" and had a song about the moon baking cookies?

Martina R.

Don A. Hoglund (author) from Wisconsin Rapids on October 09, 2009:

You have a point. Children's songs and stories are a big part of the folk tradition.

Vern Borth on October 08, 2009:

One of the first artists I remember seeing on tv in the 1950s.

And don't forget his voice from various animated Christmas specials.

Related Articles