Mendel Greenberg

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Mendel Greenberg
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Born (1916-03-10) March 10, 1916 (age 105)
DiedApril 14, 1996(1996-04-14) (aged 80)
New York
NationalityAmerican
CitizenshipUnited States of America
OccupationManager

Manuel `Manny’ Greenhill (born Mendel Greenberg, March 10, 1916 – April 14, 1996) was a manager and presenter of folk singers and publisher of their songs.[1] He founded Folklore Productions in Boston in 1957, initially to present concerts in Boston and the American Northeast. In 1960 Joan Baez became Greenhill’s first client as personal manager and booking agent. Soon many of the era's leading folk artists followed, among them Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Dave Van Ronk, and Doc Watson. Greenhill represented several important exponents of African-American musical traditions, among them Jesse Fuller and Rev. Gary Davis, and established song publishing companies to protect artists from the common practice of song appropriation. The Folklore umbrella covered musical syncretists such as American primitive guitar pioneer John Fahey and English 'folk baroque' guitarists-singers John Renbourn and Bert Jansch. Folklore Productions also represented pioneers of what came to called world music, among them Nubian oud player Hamza El Din and Tejano accordionist-singer Santiago Jiménez Jr. Greenhill remained active booking artists and overseeing song publishing until diagnosed with leukemia in 1996. Greenhill's significant role in the American urban folk music revival was honored posthumously in 2007 at the national conference of the Folk Alliance organization with The Elaine Weissman Lifetime Achievement Award.[2]

Early life and Career

Greenhill was born March 10, 1916 in New York City. He came of age during the Great Depression and was swept up in that era's progressive political movements. Greenhill spent several years as a union activist, and in that context heard the Almanac Singers, which included Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. At a 1941 May Day event, Greenhill met Leona Wechsler. They married in December of that year, and would have two children, Mitch, born in 1944, and Deborah, born in 1948. His son was born while Greenhill was serving in the U.S. Army, stationed in Honolulu, Hawaii. The following year Greenhill was honorably discharged from the service, having attained the rank of second lieutenant.

Career: 1950s

The Greenhill family moved from New York City to Boston in 1952. Greenhill developed a business there representing foreign language newspapers to potential advertisers. Changing times provided an opportunity: the muzzle the McCarthy-era Red Scare had clamped on the progressive folk song movement of the 1940s was loosening by the later 1950s. In the Fall of 1957, Greenhill presented the inaugural Folklore Concert Series at Boston's Jordan Hall. Among the performers were two of his mentors, Pete Seeger and Josh White, who had given him guitar lessons during his union days. The success of the series, which would also present Odetta, Theo Bikel, and Mahalia Jackson, prompted Greenhill to establish Folklore Productions the same year.He played a role in the survival of The Weavers, according to the group’s manager Harold Leventhal: "The Weavers were the only group in the music business that was hit by the blacklist", Leventhal recalled. "I spent a lot of time direct booking the group. And our sources were guys like Manny Greenhill, who was then in Boston. I would call Manny and tell him to run the Weavers concert up there, guaranteeing him that he can’t lose money..."[3]In 1958 or `59, Greenhill joined forces with George Wein to open a nightclub in Boston catering to folk singers and their audiences called The Ballad Room. Diverse artists performed there, from urban blues legends Memphis Slim and Willie Dixon to pioneering old time music revivalists the New Lost City Ramblers to a young lady who had recently arrived from California, Joan Baez. She appeared at the inaugural Newport Folk Festival in 1959.[4]

Career: 1960s

The marginally underground folk music revival of the 1950s blossomed into a national pop music subgenre in the early 1960s. Greenhill’s reach and grasp expanded exponentially. In 1960 Albert Baez asked Greenhill to `take care of’ his then-nineteen-year-old daughter, whose popularity snowballed after her Newport Folk Festival debut. Greenhill continued to present concerts in the Northeast even as Baez became his first client as personal manager and booking agent. By 1962 Baez was on the cover of Time magazine;[5] the following year she sang at the March on Washington,[6] a watershed in the American Civil Rights Movement. Greenhill attended with his entire immediate family. Baez went on a Southern colleges tour in 1963-64; the contractual prohibition Greenhill inserted against her appearing before segregated audiences meant many concerts were at largely black colleges. Baez may have been Greenhill’s most famous (and overtly political) client of the 1960s, but she was far from the sole significant artist then represented by Folklore Productions. Others included Doc and Merle Watson, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Rosalie Sorrels, Dave Van Ronk, and Scottish singer Jean Redpath. Greenhill was the talent coordinator for the 1966 CBC-TV documentary Bell Telephone Presents the Blues featuring (among others) Jesse Fuller, Willie Dixon, and Muddy Waters.[7] Shepherding his clients’ songs into publishing companies bore fruit in the 1960s: Peter, Paul & Mary recorded Gary Davis’ “Samson and Delilah (If I Had My Way)” in 1962;[8] the Grateful Dead began performing Jesse Fuller’s “Beat It On Down the Line” in 1966, and later decades yielded similar successes. The lively dialogue between folk and rock music inspired Greenhill in 1966-67 to book popular rock acts such as The Doors and Jefferson Airplane into major Boston venues: he was reputedly the only promoter who could book rock acts into Boston’s Symphony Hall. As a fitting coda to the decade, Greenhill escorted Baez to her performance at the Woodstock Festival, Aug. 15, 1969.[9]

Career: 1970s-1990s

The decade of the 1970s was a transitional time in Greenhill’s life and career. At age 55 he left Boston, settling in Santa Monica, CA in 1971. For a time Folklore Productions had an office above the carousel on the Santa Monica Pier. The company continued to represent and present eclectic artists, including Argentine singer Mercedes Sosa, singer-guitarist Geoff Muldaur, and Bessie Jones and the Georgia Sea Island Singers. Major changes came in 1976: Joan Baez left Folklore, while Greenhill’s son Mitch joined the business. The following year Greenhill produced the `live’ double album Old Timey Concert for the Vanguard label featuring singer-multi-instrumentalist Doc Watson with singer-guitarist Clint Howard and singer-fiddler Fred Price. Folklore artists Doc and Merle Watson earned a couple of Grammys that decade in the category of Best Ethnic or Traditional Recording for Then and Now (1973) and Two Days in November (1974).[10] The 1980s-90s saw Folklore continue to shepherd the careers of many of its core artists from the 1960s (Watson, Van Ronk, Sorrels) while presenting and representing an increasingly diverse and international artist roster (Beausoleil, Alan Stivell, Keola Beamer, Battlefield Band, The Campbell Brothers, Toumani Diabate, Taj Mahal). The heirs of deceased Folklore artists benefitted from the company’s song administration and meticulous eye on what got covered. Jesse Fuller passed away sixteen years before Eric Clapton covered his “San Francisco Bay Blues” on his Unplugged album and video. (Paul McCartney also performed it as a bonus track on a concert DVD.) Greenhill collected the proper royalties and recalled: “I gave the check to Mrs. Fuller, who couldn’t see so good. She squinted and asked her daughter, `Does that say $6,000?’ Alice said, `No, Mama. It says $60,000.’”[11]

Legacy

Following Greenhill’s 1996 death his son Mitch continued to run Folklore Productions and was joined the following year by Manny’s grandson Matt Greenhill. Folklore Productions operates today as FLi Artists.[12]

References

  1. “Manuel A. Greenhill: Folk Singers’ Manager” LOS ANGELES TIMES, APRIL 17, 1996
  2. Olesko, Ron “Folk Alliance Awards” Feb. 27, 2007 Sing Out!
  3. Harold Leventhal quoted by Mary Katherine Aldin, p. 22 of the booklet for the box set The Weavers: Wasn’t That a Time, Vanguard VCD4-147/50, 1993
  4. Gillis, James J. “Looking Back: Festival and Folk Music Have Come a Long Way Since 1959” Newport Daily News July 31, 2009 (Posted July 25, 2018)
  5. “Folk Singing: Sibyl with Guitar,” Time, Nov. 23, 1962
  6. “Remnick, David “Joan Baez Is Still Protesting” The New Yorker Radio Hour Oct. 16, 2018
  7. “The Day the Blues Came to Town,” CBC-TV, posted Nov. 15, 2018 https://www.cbc.ca/television/fromthevaults/the-day-the-blues-came-to-town-1.4903425
  8. Blackman, Patrick “Samson and Delilah/If I Had My Way” Sing Out! March 11, 2019 https://singout.org/samson-and-delilah-if-i-had-my-way/2/
  9. Greene, Andy “Joan Baez Looks Back at Woodstock: `It Was the Eye of the Hurricane’” Rolling Stone, Aug. 14, 2019 https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/joan-baez-woodstock-69-866677/
  10. McPhate, Tim, Doc Watson, 1923-2012 https://www.grammy.com/grammys/news/doc-watson-1923%E2%80%932012
  11. Manny Greenhill quoted in Folklore Productions: The first 50 Years, p. 41 2007
  12. Aldin, Mary Katherine and von Schmidt, Eric `Last Chorus: Manny Greenhill’ Sing Out! 41 no. 2 Aug-Oct. 1996

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