Izzy Young, The American Folk Music Legend Who Ran Away to Sweden



A few months ago, twenty shipping boxes arrived at the American Folklife Center in Washington, DC. Inside were journals, manuscripts, photographs and recordings of some of America’s greatest musicians, including Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan.

The return address?

Israel “Izzy” Young.

On MacDougal Street I saw a cubby hole,
I went in to get out of the cold,
Found out after I’d entered
The place was called the Folklore Center
Owned by Israel Young —
He’s always in back —
Of the center.

These are some of the lyrics of a song Dylan wrote to honor Izzy’s legendary Folklore Center in Greenwich Village, NYC. Izzy was born in 1928 to Polish immigrants on the Lower East Side. His mom inspired him with Yiddish songs and he worked at his father’s bakery in Brooklyn.

When Izzy opened the Folklore Center, he wanted it to be a combination of all his passions. It was a bookstore, an archive, a place where artists could sit for hours, listening to old recordings, writing, or schmoozing. Izzy became a safe haven and a mentor to many of the most renowned beat poets and folk musicians of that era, even producing Dylan’s first concert at Carnegie Chapter Hall in 1961.

Now, Stockholm, Sweden is fortunate enough to have Izzy and his Folklore Centrum. Undoubtedly, there are great tunes playing when you walk through that door.

Photo by Ann Charters, 1964. Featuring, from left: Music historian/author Sam Charters, Izzy Young (behind), blues musicians Memphis Willie B., Furry Lewis, and Gus Cannon.

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