The New Christy Minstrels, from 1961 to Today
Formed in 1961, it’s remarkable that today the New Christy Minstrels remain a presence on the American folk music scene. This is due in no small measure to the fact that the group founder, singer-songwriter Randy Sparks, at the age of 85/86 continues his active involvement with the group – as he has without interruption all along.
To be clear, the group – with a name borrowed from a mid-19thcentury musical performance ensemble formed by Edwin Pearce Christy* – has had a succession of members over time, many of whom went on to solo career fame. But importantly, founder Sparks has remained its leader and center for six decades.
The group’s discography includes enduring classics, some written by Sparks and others are covers of the work of other writers. They include 29 albums (Presenting The New Christy Minstrels, 1962; The New Christy Minstrels Tell Tall Tales!, 1963; Chim Chim Cher-ee and Other Happy Songs, 1965; In Italy…In Italian, 1966; You Need Someone to Love, 1970; The Great Soap Opera Themes, 1976; Permanent Wave, 1984; Life from Ledbetter’s, 1999; Merry Christmas, Volume II: 42 Years Later, 2005, Recycled: What’s Old is New, 2009; Nice Time to Be Alive, 2013). Those albums contained some of their greatest hit singles, including “This Land is Your Land” (1962), “Green, Green” (1962), “Today” (1964); and “Silly Ol’ Summertime” (1964).
Characteristic of the group’s repertoire is how many of its songs were written by Sparks or were his adaptations of folk music classics. Of the latter of these was Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land,” which brought it to the pop singles charts in 1962, about two decades after Guthrie first released it as a protest song. Several other artists (Peter, Paul and Mary, The Kingston Trio, Trini Lopez, et al.) followed suit as folk music found new relevancy in the turbulent 1960s.
The New Christy Minstrels today is owned and run by The New Christy Minstrels Foundation, which preserves the group’s music and history. That includes tracking the names and in some cases the later careers of the succession of approximately 300 group members since 1961. Some of the standouts from this list and their later work include Barry McGuire (“Eve of Destruction”), Peggy Connelly (a popular cabaret singer in Europe), Larry Ramos (“Windy,” “Never My Love”), Gene Clark (The Byrds), Bill Skiles (Skiles and Henderson), Rusty Evans (The All Night Singers, rock group Marcus), Kiyoko Ito (a major pop and television star in Japan), Kim Carnes (“Bette Davis Eyes”), Kenny Rogers (“The Gambler,” “Lady,” “Ruby”), Keith Barbour (“Echo Park”), and Terry Anne Meeuwsen (Miss America 1973, 700 Club television ministry).
Accolades to The New Christy Minstrels came early and often. In addition to ranking singles on the pop charts in the early-to-mid 1960s (“Green, Green,” “Today,” “Denver,” “This Land is Your Land”), and record sales in the millions, the debut album “Presenting the New Christy Minstrels” won a Grammy Award in 1963.
In 2009, the Walk of Stars in Palm Springs, California installed a Golden Palm Star dedicated to Sparks and the group. The following year the group toured to perform in 33 concerts over a two-month period.
Still performing in 2019, Sparks and the current singers find welcome audiences around the world and at home in the United States … from California to the New York island.