Remembering Musician and Folklorist Guy Carawan

Guy Carawan_1968Claremont, Calif. (May 13, 2015)—Guy Carawan, Pitzer’s folklorist-in-residence in the late ’60s and early ’70s, is being remembered around the country as the musician and activist who made “We Shall Overcome” an anthem of the civil rights movement. Carawan died on May 2 at the age of 87.

Carawan started teaching at Pitzer in the academic year 1967-68 as the College’s folklorist-in-residence. His classes that first year included American Folk Music and Folk Life Studies, which examined “how people live, work, worship, play, express themselves and deal with their problems,” according to Pitzer’s catalog. He served as the faculty adviser to students doing fieldwork in Appalachia and made many days musical on campus with his guitar and deep repertoire of traditional songs.

Accounts of Carawan’s life clarify that he did not write “We Shall Overcome”—the song’s melody dates back to the eighteenth century—but he introduced the version he arranged with Pete Seeger and others to activists gathered at the first meeting of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in 1960, according to The New York Times. Soon thereafter, the Los Angeles Times reports that he and his wife, Candie, were married in Claremont while she was a student at Pomona College.

During Pitzer’s Commencement in 1970, he played “Ain’t You Got a Right to the Tree of Life?”, “Where Are You Going?” and “Let it Be.”

Guy Carawan serenaded students in the Mead Hall courtyard on the first day of classes in 1968
Guy Carawan serenaded students in the Mead Hall courtyard on the first day of classes in 1968

For more about Guy Carawan’s life and work:

Guy Carawan Dies at 87; Taught a Generation to Overcome, in Song,” The New York Times, May 7, 2015.

Guy Carawan dies at 87; brought ‘We Shall Overcome’ to civil rights movement,” Los Angeles Times, May 7, 2015.

‘We Shall Overcome’ Folklorist Guy Carawan Dead at 87,” Rolling Stone, May 8, 2015.


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