The New Christy Minstrels
|The New Christy Minstrels|
|Years active||1961–1971; 1976–present|
|Associated acts||Barry McGuire, The Byrds, The First Edition, The Association, The Back Porch Majority|
Becky Jo Benson
(uncle of John Denver)
|Past members||see: Members.|
The New Christy Minstrels are an American folk music group founded by Randy Sparks in 1961. They recorded over 20 albums and had several hits, including "Green, Green", "Saturday Night" and "Everybody Loves Saturday Night" (two different songs), "Today", "Denver", and "This Land Is Your Land". Their 1962 debut album, Presenting The New Christy Minstrels won a Grammy Award and sat in the Billboard charts for two years.
The group sold millions of records and were in demand at concerts and on television shows. They also launched the musical careers of several musicians, including Kenny Rogers, Larry Ramos, Gene Clark, Kim Carnes, and Barry McGuire.
The New Christy Minstrels were formed by singer/guitarist Randy Sparks in 1961. Sparks had been a solo musician in the late 1950s, mixing folk music with Broadway. In 1960 he formed the Randy Sparks Trio with his wife, Jackie Miller, and Nick Woods, but soon realized he wanted a larger group. At the time folk music was very popular and choral groups like the Norman Luboff Choir and Les Baxter's Balladeers began incorporating it in their repertoires. Sparks created a 14 voice ensemble, The New Christy Minstrels, by combining his trio with another trio, The Inn Group (John Forsha, Karol Dugan and Jerry Yester), a quartet, The Fairmount Singers, and banjo player Billy Cudmore, folk-blues singer Terry Cudmore, folk singer Dolan Ellis and singer/guitarist Art Podell. Large commercial folk groups did not exist in those days, and The New Christy Minstrels burst onto the folk scene with "a barrage of color-coordinated blazers, starched petticoats, choreographed grins, and stage makeup." The group's name was derived from Christy's Minstrels, a blackface group formed by Philadelphia-born showman Edwin Pearce Christy in 1842. Sparks modeled his relationship to his band after legendary composer Stephen Foster, who had given many of his compositions to the Minstrels to help popularize them.
In April 1962 the group, reduced to ten members after the early departure of The Fairmount Singers, recorded their debut album, Presenting The New Christy Minstrels for Columbia Records (CL1872/CS8672). It won a Grammy Award for Best Performance by a Chorus and sat in the Billboard 200 charts for two years, peaking at number 19. The album included Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land", which entered the pop singles charts in December 1962.
The success of Presenting resulted in the group being booked on The Andy Williams Show, a television variety show, for its 1962–63 season. During this time several members left the group and were replaced by others. Forsha, Dugan and Yester left to pursue their own careers, with Yester later joining the Modern Folk Quartet. Singer/guitarists Barry McGuire and Barry Kane of Barry & Barry, vocalist Peggy Connelly, singer/banjoist Larry Ramos, and Clarence Treat on upright bass joined the group. Connelly was soon replaced by another vocalist, Gayle Caldwell. Sparks remained at the helm of the group as both director and arranger. The new lineup began playing regularly at The Troubadour in Los Angeles in mid-1962, and their style of performance was similar to those by the 1930s big bands and the 1950s English traditional-jazz ensembles. Some songs were performed by the full group and others by duos and trios within the group.
With this new lineup they released their second album, The New Christy Minstrels In Person in February 1963 (CL2141/CS8741), which had been recorded live at The Troubadour in September 1962. In January 1963 the new lineup made their first studio album, The New Christy Minstrels Tell Tall Tales! (Legends and Nonsense). By now the group's fame had grown considerably after their appearances on The Andy Williams Show, and they received "a raft of enthusiastic reviews". In April 1963 the group recorded another studio album called Ramblin' (CL2055/CS8855) which featured "Green, Green", a McGuire/Sparks composition that became the group's first hit single, peaking at number three on the Adult Contemporary Charts. "Green, Green" sold over one million copies in 1963, and was awarded a gold disc. Later that same year, Trini Lopez recorded that same hit song of the Minstrels for his 2nd album at P.J's for Reprise records (R6103/RS6103).
In May 1963, Sparks stopped touring with the group to focus on a club he had established in Los Angeles called Ledbetters, and a new group he had formed, The Back Porch Majority. He passed the role of director and arranger of The New Christy Minstrels's live performances onto McGuire, who had become the "star" of the group after singing on their hit, "Green, Green". Sparks still continued to run The New Christy Minstrels along with the group's managers, George Greif and Sid Garris. Soon after McGuire's promotion, Ellis left and was replaced by Gene Clark, who featured prominently on the group's next few records. But in early 1964 Clark left to join Jim McGuinn and David Crosby in the Jet Set, and later The Byrds. Clark was replaced by Paul Potash. The group's two female singers, Sparks's wife, Miller, and Caldwell also left and were replaced by Karen Gunderson and Ann White.
In early 1964 Sparks was contracted to create a film score for a comedy, Advance to the Rear, featuring Glenn Ford and Stella Stevens. The corresponding soundtrack by The New Christy Minstrels was released in May 1964 as Today (CL2159/CS8959). It was the first complete soundtrack ever made in the folk music style. The score is notable for the hit standard "Today", which was written by Sparks. "Today" reached number four on the Adult Contemporary Charts and 17 on the Billboard Hot 100.
In the summer of 1964, The New Christy Minstrels were featured in the television series Ford Presents the New Christy Minstrels, a weekly musical variety show sponsored by the Ford Motor Company and broadcast as a summer replacement for Hazel. Each episode had an outdoor setting, with two filmed at the 1964 New York World's Fair and three at various locations in Los Angeles, California. A guest comedian appeared with the group in each episode. Ford Presents the New Christy Minstrels ran for five weeks, from August 6 to September 10, 1964, airing on NBC from 9:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time on Thursday throughout its run.
By the mid-1960s The New Christy Minstrels were finding themselves increasingly at odds with the folk music community. While folk music had become more morally and politically reflective, Sparks insisted that his group should entertain and produce music that made people "forget about problems". The group's ensemble singing of folk music was becoming less relevant to the newer, "activist" folk music. In late 1964, Sparks sold his share of the group to Greif and Garris for $2.5 million to devote all his attention to Ledbetters and The Back Porch Majority.
After the group toured Europe in early 1965, McGuire left to embark on a solo career, and this spelled the end of the original New Christy Minstrels. Now under the direction of Greif and Garris the group moved towards a variety act, doing "novelty and pop tunes" and a little comedy, making them closer to the 19th century Christy's Minstrels from whom the group's name was derived. Reflecting this shift, they had a Billboard Top 100 hit later in 1965 with a cover of "Chim Chim Cher-ee" from the Disney film Mary Poppins.
Regular group membership changes continued, often with each new tour. In 1965 Kane was replaced by Bill Teague, and Treat was replaced by Skiles and Henderson, a comedy duo that broadened The New Christy Minstrels's stage act. Later that year Woods was replaced by Rusty Evans, and in early 1966 Larry Ramos left to join The Association and was replaced by Mike Settle of the Back Porch Majority. Towards the end of 1966 Podell, Gunderson and White were replaced by Kenny Rogers, Kim Carnes and Karen Black. Settle and Rogers later left to form The First Edition. As a duet Carnes and Rogers reached No. 4 on the Hot 100 with "Don't Fall in Love with a Dreamer" in May 1980.
The New Christy Minstrels continued under the management of Greif and Garris until 1991, making several more records (except between 1971 and 1975 when they were then inactive), including a folk-pop album of Motown hits, On Tour Through Motortown (1968). In 1976 the group reconstituted itself for a short while as a pop group to make a new album, The Great Soap Opera Themes, and then in 1978 they began performing at resort hotels.
Randy Sparks, who had spent more than thirty years as Burl Ives' writer and opening act in concert, found himself with time on his hands after Ives' death in 1995, and he sought to rebuild the group he had founded. He leased the entity from Greif and Garris to begin the experimentation, then eventually bought it back. His long-time friend Fats Johnson had quietly trademarked the world-famous name, and when 'the big man' was dying of complications from diabetes, a deal was struck, and The NCM was once again 'Under The Direction (and ownership) of Randy Sparks.'
In May 2010, the group reconstituted, and toured 33 concerts over 54 days in October and November of that year. The new lineup was given a star on the Palm Springs Walk Of Stars.
The New Christy Minstrels Foundation
The New Christy Minstrels is currently run by The New Christy Minstrels Foundation, a charitable organization dedicated to preserving the group's music.
Nearly 300 people have been members of the New Christy Minstrels. Alumni of the group include:
- Christine Andreas (joined 1971), later broadway performer
- Keith Barbour (joined 1967)
- Karen Black (joined 1967), actress (d. 2013)
- Gayle Caldwell (joined 1962), wrote the song "Cycles" (d. 2009)
- Thelma Camacho (joined 1967), later cofounder of The First Edition
- Kim Carnes (joined 1966)
- Gene Clark (joined 1963), later with The Byrds (d. 1991)
- Peggy Connelly (joined 1962) (d. 2007)
- Dolan Ellis (joined 1962), currently performing
- Linda Hart (joined 1971), later broadway performer
- Pete Henderson (joined 1965), of Skiles and Henderson, currently performing
- Barry Kane (joined 1962), later in a duo, Barry & Barry, with McGuire
- Rex Kramer (joined 1968), longest touring member, played in a Command Performance for the Queen of England
- Barry McGuire (joined 1962), later performer of the hit song "Eve Of Destruction"
- Michael McGinnis
- Terry Anne Meeuwsen (joined 1970), later Miss America and 700 Club host
- Larry Ramos (joined 1962), later with The Association at their peak
- Kenny Rogers (joined 1966), later cofounder of The First Edition, and solo artist
- Mike Settle (joined 1966)
- Baxter Taylor (joined 1962) formerly of The Wayfarers Trio with Mason Williams
- Ann White (joined 1963), later with The Love Generation
- Terry Williams (joined 1966), later cofounder of The First Edition
- Jerry Yester (joined 1961) brother of The Association's Jim Yester
- Presenting The New Christy Minstrels (aka Exciting New Folk Chorus) (1962)
- The New Christy Minstrels In Person (1963) (live album recorded at The Troubador, Los Angeles)
- The New Christy Minstrels Tell Tall Tales! (Legends and Nonsense) (1963)
- Ramblin' (1963)
- Merry Christmas! (1963)
- Today and Other Songs from 'Advance to the Rear' (1964)
- Land of Giants (1964)
- Quiet Sides of the New Christy Minstrels (1965)
- The New Christy Minstrels Sing and Play Cowboys and Indians (1965), however, recorded in 1964
- Chim Chim Cher-ee and Other Happy Songs (1965)
- The Wandering Minstrels (1965)
- In Italy...In Italian (1966)
- New Kick! (1966)
- Christmas with the Christies (1966)
- On Tour Through Motortown (1968)
- Big Hits from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (with Arthur Treacher) (1968)
- You Need Someone to Love (1970)
- The Great Soap Opera Themes (1976)
- Live from Ledbetter's (1999), however, recorded in 1964
- Merry Christmas, Volume II: 42 Years Later (2005)
- Recycled: What's Old Is New (2009)
- Bogdanov, Vladimir; Woodstra, Chris; Erlewine, Stephen Thomas, All music guide: The Definitive Guide to Popular Music, Hal Leonard Corporation, 2001. Cf. p.793
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- McNeil, Alex, Total Television: The Comprehensive Guide to Programming From 1948 to the Present, New York: Penguin Books, 1996, p. 595.
- Brooks, Tim, and Earle Marsh, The Complete Directory to Prime-Time Network and Cable TV Shows, 1946-Present, Sixth Edition, New York: Ballantine Books, 1995, ISBN 0-345-39736-3, p. 736.
- "New Christy Minstrels to Start First European Trek in January", Billboard, August 8, 1964
- Palm Springs Walk of Stars by date dedicated
- "foundation_home". Newchristyminstrelsfoundation.org. Retrieved 2012-10-08.
- "Master List of The New Christy Minstrels". The New Christy Minstrels homepage. Retrieved 2010-11-30.