Richard Dyer-BennetThe Last Minstrel

Richard Dyer-BennetThe Last Minstrel

Paul Jenkins

Print publication date: 2014

ISBN: 9781604733600

Publisher: University Press of Mississippi


In the 1940s and ’50s, Richard Dyer-Bennet (1913–1991) was among the best-known and most respected folk singers in America. This book tells the story of Dyer-Bennet, often referred to as the “Twentieth-Century Minstrel.” Dyer-Bennet’s approach to singing sounded almost foreign to many American listeners. The folk artist followed a musical tradition in danger of dying out. The Swede Sven Scholander was the last European proponent of minstrelsy and served as Dyer-Bennet’s inspiration after the young singer traveled to Stockholm to meet him one year before Scholander’s death. Dyer-Bennet’s achievements were many. Nine years after his meeting with Scholander, he became the first solo performer of his kind to appear in Carnegie Hall. The book argues that Dyer-Bennet helped pave the way for the folk boom of the mid-1950s and early 1960s, finding his influence in the work of Joan Baez, Judy Collins, and many others. It also posits strong evidence that he would certainly be much better known today had his career not been interrupted midstream by the anticommunist, Red-scare blacklist and its ban on his performances.