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Club 47 as rich in lore as it was in folk

“For the Love of the Music: The Club 47 Folk Revival” sheds a lot of light on the historic Cambridge venue. To dig deeper, we asked Millie Rahn, a folklorist who has studied and written extensively about Club 47 and its legacy, to share some facts most people wouldn’t know about the fabled listening room.

The original Club 47 was opened by Joyce Kalina and Paula Kelley at 47 Mount Auburn St. near Harvard Square on Jan. 6, 1958, as a European-style coffeehouse and jazz club. The Steve Kuhn Trio played opening night. The club took its name from its address, a former storefront.

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Joan Baez singing traditional ballads and Eric von Schmidt doing country blues were among the first folk singers to perform at Club 47 in the late ’50s, helping the transition from jazz to folk music.

Club 47 regularly booked local talent such as the Charles River Valley Boys, Jackie Washington, Tom Rush, and the Kweskin Jug Band along with traditional artists primarily from the South — from Maybelle Carter of the Carter Family to bluesmen Mississippi John Hurt, Son House, Rev. Gary Davis, and Muddy Waters to Appalachian old-time banjo players Dock Boggs and Hobart Smith.

UMass student Taj Maha l used to hitchhike from Amherst to Club 47 and did chores and played piano after hours in return for hospitality. He was a founder of the Pioneer Valley Folklore Society.

Bob Dylan played at Club 47 as a guest of Eric von Schmidt and Joan Baez, but he never had featured billing.

Club 47 moved to Palmer Street in the fall of 1963 (now the Club Passim location) and got the Cambridge post office to designate the address as 47 Palmer St.

Bill Monroe recruited three of his Blue Grass Boys from Club 47: Bill Keith (banjo), Peter Rowan (guitar), and Richard Greene (fiddle).

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Club 47 closed on April 28, 1968. The former club was used as an office for Gene McCarthy’s 1968 US presidential campaign.

JAMES REED