On this day in 1936, David Kenneth Ritz “Dave” Van Ronk was born. Van Ronk was a highly influential figure in the American folk music revival and Greenwich Village music scene of the 1960’s. He even earned the nickname the “Mayor of MacDougal Street”.
Van Ronk was born in Brooklyn and moved to Queens in 1951, though he spent most of those years bumming around lower Manhattan and did a couple of tours with the Merchant Marines. By 1958, he was firmly committed to the folk-blues style and performed blues, jazz and folk music, occasionally writing his own songs but generally arranging the work of earlier artists and his folk revival peers. Van Ronk became noted both for his large physical stature and his expansive charisma, which bespoke an intellectual, cultured gentleman of many talents. Van Ronk died in 2002 and gave his last concert just a few months before his death.
Van Ronk had a large impact on the folk music scene and can be described as an irreverent and incomparable guitar artist and interpreter of black blues and folk, with an uncannily precise ability at impersonation. He is also underestimated as a musician and blues guitarist. His still remains an influential figure to this day, both in Greenwich Village and beyond. In 2004, a section of Sheridan Square, where Barrow Street meets Washington Place, was renamed Dave Van Ronk Street in his memory.
Also, the Coen brothers film Inside Llewyn Davis follows a folk singer similar to Van Ronk, and incorporates anecdotes based on Van Ronk’s life. The filmmakers were generous enough to offer an exclusive advance showing of the film for GVSHP to our members in 2013.