The New Christy Minstrels
The New Christy Minstrels are an American large-ensemble folk music group founded by Randy Sparks in 1961. From their beginnings as prominent figures in the early-1960s U.S. folk revival, the group recorded over 20 albums and had several hits, including "Green, Green", "Saturday Night", "Today", "Denver", and "This Land Is Your Land". Their 1962 debut album, Presenting The New Christy Minstrels won a Grammy Award and sat in the Billboard charts for two years.
The group sold millions of records and were in demand at concerts and on television shows. They also launched the musical careers of several musicians, including Kenny Rogers, Gene Clark, Kim Carnes, and Barry McGuire.
The New Christy Minstrels were formed by singer/guitarist Randy Sparks in 1961. Sparks had been a solo musician in the late 1950s, mixing folk music with Broadway. In 1960, he formed the Randy Sparks Trio with his wife, Jackie Miller, and Nick Woods, but soon realized he wanted a larger group. At the time folk music was very popular and choral groups like the Norman Luboff Choir and Les Baxter's Balladeers began incorporating it in their repertoires. Sparks created a 14-voice ensemble, The New Christy Minstrels, by combining his trio with another trio, The Inn Group (John Forsha, Karol Dugan and Jerry Yester), a quartet, The Fairmount Singers, and banjo player Billy Cudmore, folk-blues singer Terry Cudmore, folk singer Dolan Ellis and singer/guitarist Art Podell. Large commercial folk groups did not exist in those days, and The New Christy Minstrels burst onto the folk scene with "a barrage of color-coordinated blazers, starched petticoats, choreographed grins, and stage makeup." The group's name was derived from Christy's Minstrels, a blackface group formed by Philadelphia-born showman Edwin Pearce Christy in 1842. Sparks modeled his relationship to his band after legendary composer Stephen Foster, who had given many of his compositions to the original Minstrels to help popularize them.
In April 1962 the group, reduced to ten members after the early departure of The Fairmount Singers, recorded their debut album, Presenting The New Christy Minstrels for Columbia Records. It won a Grammy Award for Best Performance by a Chorus and sat in the Billboard 200 charts for two years, peaking at number 19. The album included Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land", which entered the pop singles charts in December 1962.
The success of Presenting resulted in the group being booked on The Andy Williams Show, a television variety show, for its 1962-63 season. During this time several members left the group and were replaced by others. Forsha, Dugan and Yester left to pursue their own careers, with Yester later joining the Modern Folk Quartet. Singer/guitarists Barry McGuire and Barry Kane of Barry & Barry, vocalist Peggy Connelly, singer/banjoist Larry Ramos, and Clarence Treat on upright bass joined the group. Connelly was soon replaced by another vocalist, Gayle Caldwell. Sparks remained at the helm of the group as both director and arranger. The new lineup began playing regularly at The Troubadour in Los Angeles in mid-1962, and their style of performance was similar to those by the 1930s big bands and the 1950s English traditional-jazz ensembles. Some songs were performed by the full group and others by duos and trios within the group.
With this new lineup they released The New Christy Minstrels in Person, their second album, in February 1963, recorded live at The Troubadour in September 1962. In January 1963, the new lineup made their first studio album, The New Christy Minstrels Tell Tall Tales! (Legends and Nonsense). By now the group's fame had grown considerably after their appearances on The Andy Williams Show, and they received "a raft of enthusiastic reviews". In April 1963 the group recorded another studio album, Ramblin', which included "Green, Green", a McGuire/Sparks composition that became the group's first hit single, peaking at number three on the Adult Contemporary Charts. "Green, Green" sold over one million copies in 1963, and was awarded a gold disc. Later that same year, Trini Lopez recorded that same hit song of the Minstrels for his 2nd album at P.J's for Reprise records.
In May 1963, Sparks stopped touring with the group to focus on a club he had established in Los Angeles called Ledbetters, and a new group he had formed, The Back Porch Majority. He passed the role of director and arranger of The New Christy Minstrels's live performances onto McGuire, who had become the "star" of the group after singing on their hit "Green, Green". Soon after McGuire's promotion, Ellis left and was replaced by Gene Clark, who featured prominently on the group's next few records. But in early 1964 Clark left to join Jim McGuinn and David Crosby in the Jet Set, and later The Byrds. Clark was replaced by Paul Potash. The group's two female singers, Miller, and Caldwell also left and were replaced by Karen Gunderson and Ann White.
In early 1964 Sparks was contracted to create a film score for Advance to the Rear, featuring Glenn Ford and Stella Stevens. The corresponding soundtrack performed by The New Christy Minstrels was released in May 1964 as Today. It was the first complete soundtrack ever made in the folk music style. The score is notable for the hit standard "Today", which was written by Sparks. "Today" reached number four on the Adult Contemporary Charts and 17 on the Billboard Hot 100.
In the summer of 1964, The New Christy Minstrels were featured in the television series Ford Presents the New Christy Minstrels, a weekly variety show sponsored by the Ford Motor Company and broadcast as a summer replacement for Hazel. Each episode had an outdoor setting, with two filmed at the 1964 New York World's Fair and three at various locations in Los Angeles. A guest comedian appeared with the group in each episode. Ford Presents the New Christy Minstrels ran for five weeks, from August 6 to September 10, 1964, airing on NBC from 9:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. ET on Thursday throughout its run.
After the group toured Europe in early 1965, McGuire left to embark on a solo career, and this spelled the end of the original New Christy Minstrels. Now under the direction of Greif and Garris the group moved towards a variety act, doing "novelty and pop tunes" and a little comedy, making them closer to the 19th century Christy's Minstrels from whom the group's name was derived. Reflecting this shift, they had a Billboard Top 100 hit later in 1965 with a cover of "Chim Chim Cher-ee" from the Disney film Mary Poppins.
Regular group membership changes continued, often with each new tour. In 1965 Kane was replaced by Bill Teague, and Treat was replaced by Skiles and Henderson, a comedy duo that broadened The New Christy Minstrels's stage act. Later that year Woods was replaced by Rusty Evans, and in early 1966 Larry Ramos left to join The Association and was replaced by Mike Settle. Towards the end of 1966 Podell, Gunderson and White were replaced by Kenny Rogers, Kim Carnes and Karen Black. Settle and Rogers later left to form The First Edition. As a duet Carnes and Rogers reached No. 4 on the Hot 100 with "Don't Fall in Love with a Dreamer" in May 1980.
The New Christy Minstrels continued under the management of Greif and Garris until 1991, making several more records (except between 1971 and 1975 when they were then inactive), including a folk-pop album of Motown hits, On Tour Through Motortown (1968). In 1976 the group reconstituted itself for a short while as a pop group to make a new album, The Great Soap Opera Themes, and then in 1978 they began performing at resort hotels.
In May 2010, the group reconstituted, and toured, performing 33 concerts over 54 days in October and November of that year. The new lineup was given a star on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars.
The New Christy Minstrels is currently run and owned by The New Christy Minstrels Foundation, a charitable organization dedicated to preserving the group's music.
Founder Randy Sparks has the most time spent in The New Christy Minstrels; second place in that category is Becky Jo Benson, who has been an active member non stop since 1997. The current (as of 2015) line up in live concerts and on recent recordings consists of seven members: the inventor and founder of The New Christy Minstrels, Randy Sparks; Becky Jo Benson; Sue Harris; Greg O'Haver; 'Uncle' Dave Deutschendorf (John Denver's Uncle); 'Cousin' Dave Rainwater (Brenda Lee's Cousin); and Tholow Chan.
Alumni of the group include:
|Year||Single (A-side, B-side)
Both sides from same album except where indicated
|1962||"This Land Is Your Land"
b/w "Don't Cry, Suzanne"
|93||--||Exciting New Folk Chorus|
b/w "Liza Lee"
b/w "The Banjo" (Non-album track)
b/w "The Wheeler Dealers"
b/w "Miss Katy Cruel" (Non-album track)
|"Silly Ol' Summertime"
b/w "The Far Side of the Hill" (from The Quiet Sides of The New Christy Minstrels)
|"This Ol' Riverboat"
b/w "Same Ol' Huckleberry Finn" (Non-album track)
|"Gotta Get A'Goin"
b/w "Down the Road I Go"
|1965||"Chim, Chim, Cheree"
b/w "They Gotta Quit Kickin' My Dog Around" (from The New Christy Minstrels Sing and Play Cowboys and Indians)
|81||20||Chim Chim Cher-ee|
b/w "Se Piangi, Se Ridi" (from In Italy...In Italian)
|"A Little Bit of Happiness"
b/w "Jim 'N I, Him 'N I, Flying in the Gemini" (Non-album track)
|--||--||Chim Chim Cher-ee|
|"Born to Be Free"
b/w "Everybody Loves Saturday Night" (from The Wandering Minstrels)
|1966||"Dance My Trouble Away"
b/w "There But for Fortune"
|"The Music of the World a Turnin'"
b/w "If I Could Start My Life Again"
|"Beautiful Beautiful World"
b/w "A Corner in the Sun" (from New Kick!)
|"We Need a Little Christmas"
b/w "O Holy Night"
|--||--||Christmas with the Christies|
|"It Should Have Been You"
b/w "Sleep Comes Easy"
|1967||"I'll Coat Your Mind with Honey"
b/w "Night and Day"
|1968||"Where Did Our Love Go"
b/w "Stop in the Name of Love"
|--||--||On Tour Through Motortown|
|"Ballad for Americans"
b/w "Gallant Men"
b/w "Summertime Love"
|"Chitty Chitty Bang Bang"
b/w "Me Old Bamboo"
|114||--||Big Hits from "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang"|
|1969||"Hey Jude" / "Atlantis"
b/w "Run Wild, Run Free"
|1971||"You Need Someone to Love"
b/w "South American Get Away"
|--||--||You Need Someone to Love|
b/w "I Still Do" (Non-album track)
|"You Are Always on My Mind"
b/w "Where Are You Then"
|1972||"Love It Along"
b/w "The Age of Not Believing"