Izzy Young, a businessman, political activist and founding patron of the Greenwich Village folk music scene who organised Bob Dylan’s first major New York concert and devoted decades to supporting other musicians, has died at age 90.
Young’s daughter Philomene Grandin said her father died of natural causes on Monday at his home in Stockholm. Before he moved to Sweden in 1973 and went into business there, Young ran a folk music shop in New York that nurtured a generation of artists.
Starting in the 1950s, Greenwich Village was the centre of a folk music revival that helped launch the careers of Dylan, Joni Mitchell and many others. Young, as much as anyone, made the revival possible. In 1957, he opened the Folklore Centre, remembered by Dylan as an “ancient chapel, like a shoebox-sized institute,” a vital stopping point where fans and folk performers would stop by for everything from old sheet music to obscure music books.
In 1960, Young had another inspiration – to expand folk music beyond coffee houses and bring it to a restaurant, an Italian place called Gerde’s. When Dylan moved from Minnesota to New York in the winter of 1961, Gerde’s was an early stop. He played his first professional gig there, in April. A Dylan performance at Gerde’s in September of that year was attended by the New York Times’ Robert Shelton, whose review established Dylan as a rising star and brought him his first record deal.
In November 1961, Young organised Dylan’s first major show outside Greenwich Village, at Carnegie Chapter Hall, a small auditorium connected to Carnegie Hall.
Young also gave early breaks to other top folk and folk-rock performers, including Mitchell, John Sebastian of the Lovin’ Spoonful and Peter Paul and Mary, and later befriended Patti Smith. He wrote a column for the folk music publication Sing Out! and helped organise a 1961 protest – known, misleadingly, as “The Beatnik Riot”– after Parks Commissioner Newbold Morris stopped issuing permits for folk musicians in Washington Square Park.
It began as a peaceful gathering, but ended with police harassing protesters, shoving some to the ground and carrying others off. The city soon resumed allowing folkies in the park.
A film of the event showed Young telling police that it was not up to “Commissioner Morris to tell the people what kind of music is good or bad. He’s telling people folk music brings degenerates, but it’s not so.”
In Stockholm, Young reopened his shop as the Folklore Centre. It closed at the end of November due to his age, his daughter said.
The son of Jewish Polish immigrants, Young was born on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
After attending Brooklyn College, he worked for a few years at his father’s bakery before deciding to go into business for himself. Grandin said her father dedicated more 60 years to promoting folk music and musicians.
“He had opened his heart to so many people, so many poets who came to his shop,” Grandin told the Associated Press. “And he was a fantastic father.”
She spent several months last year cataloging and packing up Young’s library of some 2,000 titles, with a view to selling it as one collection.
Izzy Young is survived by his daughter, a son and three grandchildren.