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My mother, the folk singer devotee

Harry Katz, here in his 20s, thanks his

Harry Katz, here in his 20s, thanks his mother for inspiring him to play the guitar. Credit: Handout

My mother, who passed away in 2004, left a lasting legacy to me, inspired by her jaunts to Washington Square to listen to Woody Guthrie and his disciples in the decades leading to the folk revival.

The Weavers, Josh White and the Tarriers gave way -- when the revival took hold in earnest -- to the new sounds of the Chad Mitchell Trio, who regaled us with "The John Birch Society," among other songs at Plainview High School, and to the exciting arrival of Judy Henske, who sang at Roosevelt Field. For a brief time, she took the folk movement by storm with her outrageous socks and version of "Hookah Tooka."

"Inside Llewyn Davis," a new movie directed by brothers Ethan and Joel Coen, is a long-overdue reminder of that brief period in our cultural experience, more than a half century ago, when folk music captivated the heart and soul of America.

In third grade, "hootenannies" were a regular part of our music curriculum, and "Michael, Row the Boat Ashore," a No. 1 hit, was so popular that boys with the name Michael were linked by other children to that song.

Two years later, a black teacher I had took exception to the popular folk song "Cotton Fields" because she thought it sentimentalized the harsh life of Negro farmworkers in the South, although it so happened that the song's writer was the great Lead Belly, a black man.

We all watched "Hootenanny" on Saturday nights, which brought both black and white folk groups together on college campuses, while drug-free college students clapped their hands, swayed in unison or sang along.

This was also the time of "brotherhood," the New Frontier -- which was also the name of a Kingston Trio album -- the Peace Corps, Volunteers in Service to America (better known as VISTA) and President John F. Kennedy, all things inexorably linked to me in a positive way by the folk music of the era, and my mother's value system.

My mother was also the first person I can recall who bought an LP by Bob Dylan, the one with him and his girlfriend on a street in Greenwich Village. The album challenged us to question conventional ideas, and as such, represented the darker side of the folk movement.

It was the time when an old jug band song, "Walk Right In," could be No. 1 for two weeks, and "If I Had a Hammer" captivated us with the possibility of real peace and brotherhood.

By the time I had started college, JFK had been gone seven years, the folk revival and the ideas of brotherhood and peace had given way to a drug-infused, harsher youth culture and the Vietnam War; but wonderful music and values, spawned by the American folk revival, continue to this day.

Thanks, Mom, for the legacy you passed on to me, and the idea that music and idealism, with a measured dose of cynicism, could be brought together. And for having inspired me to learn guitar and banjo well enough to play "Kumbaya."

Who knows? Maybe another folk revival will sweep across this land.

-- Harry Katz, Southold

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