Elijah Wald – Folk Musician, Writer, Ethnomusicologist, by Stewart Hendrickson

Elijah Waldself-described “ramblin’ hobo folksinger”was born in 1959, the son of Nobel Prizewinning biochemist George Wald and Harvard biologist Ruth Hubbard. Opting for a career outside of science and following his heart, he became a folk singer and studied guitar in the 1970s with Dave Van Ronk. In his book, “The Mayor of MacDougal Street,” he captured some of the early Greenwich Village folk scene that inspired the Coen Brothers’ movie “Inside Llewyn Davis.” Beginning at age 18, in the late 1970s and most of the 1980s, he wandered around Europe, Asia, Africa and Central America with his guitar, busking, playing small gigs, and immersing himself in all kinds of folk music. See Elijah Wald, biography.

Writer. In the early 1980s Wald began writing for the Boston Globe on roots and world music. He published over a thousand pieces before leaving in 2000. As a writer he has published over a dozen books including Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues; How the Beatles Destroyed Rock ’n’ Roll: An Alternative History of American Popular Music; Narcocorrido: A Journey into the Music of Drugs, Guns, and Guerrillas; and The Mayor of MacDougal Street. He won a Grammy Award for his album notes to The Arhoolie Records 40th Anniversary Box, for which he was also nominated as a producer.

Musician, Music and Albums. For Wald the important thing is respecting the integrity and history of the music and songs rather than becoming an “entertainer” or popular folk music star. He has helped produce a large number of CDs including his own, Street Corner Cowboys (Black Rose Records), a collection of many of his favorite pieces, sung and played with his favorite musicians.

Songobiography — a musical memoir. YouTube videos of several hundred songs sung by Wald, along with notes about the songs are posted in his Songobiography. Elijah Wald: “Welcome to my ‘songobiography,’ a mix of musical performance, memories, history, and whatever else seems appropriate. Starting in January 2016 I posted six months of daily performances of songs, and am continuing with weekly posts (if you want to be alerted to future posts, there’s a subscription button to the right). All are ‘old friends’ — songs I have learned and played over the years, with musings on their back stories, their context, how I learned them, or what they mean to me. I made only one rule: I’ve researched some of the writing, but the songs are all played as I recall them, with the inevitable additions and deletions of time and the quirks of memory.”

Here are some examples of Wald’s music:

Discussions: Robert Johnson, From Four Until Late, and Midnight Hour Blues


Discussion: Kijana Muke (Jean-Bosco Mwenda), and “Wazee wa Kisa” (“The Old Men from Kisa” in Swahili)


Discussions:  Pallet On Your Floor,  and Ragged But Right

And several hundred more – check them out.

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