Malvina Reynolds

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Malvina Reynolds
Malvina Reynolds.jpg
Background information
Birth nameMalvina Milder
Born(1900-08-23)August 23, 1900
San Francisco, California, U.S.
DiedMarch 17, 1978(1978-03-17) (aged 77)
Birmingham, Alabama, U.S.
GenresFolk music, blues
Occupation(s)Singer, songwriter, political activist
Instrument(s)Vocals, acoustic guitar
LabelsColumbia/CBS Records

Malvina Reynolds (August 23, 1900 – March 17, 1978)[1] was an American folk/blues singer-songwriter and political activist, best known for her songwriting, particularly the songs "Little Boxes", "What Have They Done to the Rain" and "Morningtown Ride".[2]

Early life[edit]

Malvina Milder was born in San Francisco, California, United States,[1] to David and Abagail Milder, Jewish and socialist immigrants, who opposed involvement in World War I. Her mother was born in Russia and her father was born in Hungary.[3] She married William ("Bud") Reynolds, a carpenter and labor organizer, in 1934. They had one child, Nancy Reynolds Schimmel (a songwriter and performer), in 1935. Malvina earned her Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts in English from the University of California, Berkeley, and later earned a doctorate there, finishing her dissertation in 1938.[4]

Music career[edit]

Though she played violin in a dance band in her twenties, Reynolds began her songwriting career late in life. She was in her late forties when she met Earl Robinson, Pete Seeger, and other folk singers and songwriters. She returned to school at UC Berkeley, where she studied music theory. Reynolds went on to write several popular songs, including "Little Boxes" (1962), recorded by Seeger, Chilean singer Víctor Jara,[5] and others, "What Have They Done to the Rain" (1962), recorded by The Searchers, The Seekers, Marianne Faithfull, Melanie Safka and Joan Baez (about nuclear fallout),[1] "It Isn't Nice" (1964) (a civil rights anthem), "Turn Around" (1959) (about children growing up, later sung by Harry Belafonte), and "There's a Bottom Below" (about depression). Reynolds was also a noted composer of children's songs, including "Love Is Something (Magic Penny)" and "Morningtown Ride" (1957), a top-5 UK single (December 1966) recorded by The Seekers.[1] Malvina lived on Parker Street in Berkeley.

Four collections of Reynolds' music are available on compact disc. The Smithsonian Folkways label released Another County Heard From (Folkways 02524) and Ear to the Ground (Smithsonian Folkways 40124), and the Omni Recording Corporation in Australia issued Malvina Reynolds (Omni 112) and Malvina Reynolds Sings the Truth (Omni 114).

Reynolds' most famous song, "Little Boxes" (made famous by Seeger), has enjoyed renewed popularity by being featured in Showtime's TV series Weeds. "Little Boxes" was inspired visually by the houses of Daly City, California. Nancy Reynolds Schimmel, Reynolds' daughter, explained:

My mother and father were driving South from San Francisco through Daly City when my mom got the idea for the song. She asked my dad to take the wheel, and she wrote it on the way to the gathering in La Honda where she was going to sing for the Friends Committee on Legislation. When Time Magazine (I think, maybe Newsweek) wanted a photo of her pointing to the very place, she couldn't find those houses because so many more had been built around them that the hillsides were totally covered.[6]

In her later years, Reynolds contributed songs and material to PBS' Sesame Street, on which she made occasional appearances as a character named Kate.[7][unreliable source?]


In 1977, Reynolds became an associate of the Women's Institute for Freedom of the Press (WIFP).[8] WIFP is an American non-profit publishing organization. The organization works to increase communication between women and connect the public with forms of women-based media.


In 1979, the Supersisters trading card set was produced and distributed; one of the cards featured Reynolds's name and picture.[9]

Reynolds was a Unitarian Universalist.[10]


Malvina Reynolds died on St. Patricks Day March 17, 1978 at the age of 77 from complications brought on by a respiratory failure at theCarraway Methodist Medical Center in Birmingham where she was pronounced dead at 12:15 in the afternoon according to the autopsy report. Thousands packed the Memorial Service at St. Aloysius Church in Bessemer, Alabama, to pay their respects and hear tributes from other artists. They buried her at Bessemer's Highland Memorial Gardens.


Reynolds' career was subject to a biographical short film, Love It Like a Fool, released in 1977 and directed by Susan Wengraf.[11]

Reynolds' song "Little Boxes" was used as the theme for the TV show Weeds.

The TV show Big Sky featured the song “Little Boxes” at the end of the episode aptly titled “Little Boxes.”

In 2020, most of the second verse of her one-minute ditty "Place to Be," as recorded by her, was used as the sound for a Zillow commercial.

Two of her songs are included on The Specials’ album Protest Songs 1924–2012 (2021).


  1. ^ a b c d Colin Larkin, ed. (1992). The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music (First ed.). Guinness Publishing. pp. 2078/9. ISBN 0-85112-939-0.
  2. ^ Biography at Western Kentucky University by Charles H. Smith and Nancy Schimmel – Accessed Nov 2006
  4. ^ "Malvina Reynolds: Song Lyrics and Poems". Retrieved August 13, 2018.
  5. ^ "Open Notes but No Closing Chord: On Malvina Reynolds, by Kristin Lems, in Heresies: A feminist Publication on Art and Politics v10 p. 86
  6. ^ Malvina Reynolds profile Archived 22 December 2007 at the Wayback Machine, Weeds, Retrieved 16 October 2007.
  7. ^ Sesame Street (TV Series 1969– ) - IMDb, retrieved June 1, 2021
  8. ^ "Associates | The Women's Institute for Freedom of the Press". Retrieved June 21, 2017.
  9. ^ Wulf, Steve (March 23, 2015). "Supersisters: Original Roster". Retrieved June 4, 2015.
  10. ^ "Notable Universalist and Unitarian Women: Q – R". Retrieved December 2, 2015.
  11. ^ Artel, Linda; Wheat, Valerie (1979) Women and Work, New Options: A Guide to Nonprint Media. Women's Educational Equity Communications Network. Far West Laboratory for Educational Research and Development. p. 37. Retrieved 22 September 2021.

External links[edit]