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Judy Collins revisits early folks days in latest book
As a folk singer of more than 50 years' standing, Judy Collins is well immersed in a storytelling form of music.
And she has a story to tell about making that music, too.
In "Sweet Judy Blue Eyes: My Life in Music," her seventh book, the still active 73-year-old Collins focuses on a passion that began in her native Seattle but took off in the late 50s at the University of Connecticut and then in the 60s s part of the burgeoning folks scene in and around New York City's Greenwich Village. She released her first album, "A Maid of Constant Sorrow," in 1961, launching a career that includes more than three dozen albums and hits such as her Grammy Award-winning rendition of Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides, Now" and a cover of Stephen Sondheim's "Send in the Clowns."
"I've written a lot of books, but I really wanted to do one that focused on the 60s and detail what it was like in those years -- what the clubs were like, what the artists were like who I worked with," explains Collins, who will be the opening night speaker this week for Detroit's 61st Jewish Book Fair. "It was a very rich environment in which to develop your voice, so to speak. I really thought it was important to get that down so people could get a feeling of what it was like.
"It was a very exciting book to write because I have so much material I've saved, so many date books, so many journals. I knew exactly where I was most of the time, so I could really be specific about everything."
"Sweet Judy Blue Eyes" -- a nod to the song "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" that onetime boyfriend Stephen Stills wrote about her -- is populated with some of the most seminal figures of the era, including Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Odetta, Leonard Cohen and a variety of club owners and record company executives who vaulted the scene to national and then international attention.
"There were a lot of things that came together in '59, '60, '61 that really changed the nature of" folk music, Collins explains. "It was about a singer and a guitar, and there was an effort made by record labels to promote and produce and get things on the radio and make music available to the greater public.
"All of a sudden people couple make a living doing somethign that they loved. You basically got on a bus or a plane or a train with a guitar and started covering the country. You didn't have to have a 100-piece orchestra or anything, and it made a huge difference."
Collins has, of course, managed to keep things going. Her latest album, "Bohemian," came out in 2011, when she co-headlined the Ann Arbor Folk Festival. A new PBS special, "Judy Collins Live at the Metropolitan Museum in New York," is airing during the November pledge drive period, and she has plans to record an Irish music album as well as an entire set dedicated to Sondheim's works, both of which will be supported by PBS specials.
That means her docket is full until at least 2016, and Collins says she takes pride in that -- as well as the continuing careers of many of her Greenwich Village colleagues.
"We have jobs, you know?" she says. "It is such a dignified thing to be able to say you're making your own living. It's a big deal -- a very, very big deal. The older I get the more I realize that not everybody can make a living doing what they love doing.
"So I feel very privileged to have the ability to do that. It wasn't handed to me on a silver platter; I had to work very hard for it. But it turned out to be a good choice to have made -- if it was a choice. I'm not sure, you know? I often think it's what I HAD to do."
Judy Collins speaks about her new book, "Sweet Judy Blue Eyes: My LIfe in Music," at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 7, for opening night of the 61st Jewish Book Fair at the Jewish Community Center, 6600 W. Maple Road, WEst Bloomfield. Tickets are $46 for JCC members, $56 for non-members. The Jewish Book Fair runs through Nov. 18 and will feature appearances by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra's Leonard Slatkin and others. The Oakland Press' Gary Graff will speak about his latest book, "Rock & Roll Myths: The True Stories Behind the Most Infamous Legends" (Voyageur Press) at 3:30 p.m. on Nov. 18, with assistance from Detroit singer-songwriter Michael Bermudez. Call 248-661-1900 or visit www.bookfair.jccdet.org.
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