This Historic Day In Music: Judy Collins

She wanted a guitar.

It was 1967, she was going into the 8th grade and Andrea wanted a guitar.

So, she saved up her hard-earned babysitting money and on September 29, 1967, Andrea spent $28.00 on a small-bodied, nylon string acoustic guitar with a tan, cloth case.

Before October ended, she was taking weekly group guitar lessons from Charlie Wright, a local Folk singer who went to the same Congregational church in Park Ridge, New Jersey that Andrea and her family belonged to. Mr. Wright drew from a large repertoire of Folk music in his teaching and Andrea was soon strumming through and singing along with the chord changes to a host of classic, traditional songs, including “The Crawdad Song,” “Cruel War” and “Yellow Bird,” and contemporary songs by a list of popular artists that included Tom Paxton, Simon & Garfunkel and Bob Dylan.

Also in the mix of songs that Mr. Wright taught Andrea to play over the many months she took lessons were two songs popularized by singer/guitarist Judy Collins: “A Maid of Constant Sorrow” and “Both Sides Now.”

“A Maid of Constant Sorrow” was the title song of Judy Collins’ first album, released in October of 1961. Ms. Collins’ version of “Both Sides Now” (written by the then-little-known Canadian musician Joni Mitchell) was all over the radio in 1967, being the hit single from her 7th album, Wildflowers.

Although she enjoyed playing these songs, Andrea didn’t really “hear” the music of Judy Collins until the summer of 1971.

That summer, 17 year-old Andrea had done enough babysitting.

She got a job, working and living far from New Jersey at Geneva Point Center, a church camp/conference center on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee, in Center Harbor, New Hampshire. All summer long, Andrea, with her roommates and friends Patty, Wendy and Eleanor listened, danced and listened some more to their large, combined collection of records that included the latest LPs from the Beatles, James Taylor, Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Judy Collins.

In those days, at that time in her life, the music of those artists, especially the women, had a profound impact on Andrea. These women were indeed women, not “girls,” as in the “Girl Groups” of her old favorite Motown records. These women were singers, too, but they also wrote their own songs and accompanied themselves on piano and guitar. Andrea deeply connected to the words and the stories and the ideas and the emotions that filled the tracks on those records and that poured out of the record player’s speakers, flooding the warm air, day and night in that tiny, first floor corner room in the staff dormitory, sitting at the edge of a New Hampshire forest.

Thirty-six years later and several Judy Collins albums – including a copy of Living (1971) that she won, late one college-dorm-room, listening-to-the-radio night, by being the only person to call in with the correct answer to the question posed by the not-as-clever-as-he-thought-he-was WUNH-FM disc jockey – and CDs later, Andrea finally saw Judy Collins sing and play in person.

On Sunday, September 16, 2007, Andrea and her husband (that would be me), travelled to see Ms. Collins perform at Merrill Auditorium in Portland, Maine. The very first song Ms. Collins played that night, standing center stage and strumming on her huge Martin 12-string guitar, was “Both Sides Now.”

For Andrea and millions of women around the world, the music of Judy Collins lies very, very close to the heart.

Judith Marjorie Collins was born this day, May 1, 1939 in Seattle, Washington.

Happy Birthday, Judy Collins.

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3 Responses to This Historic Day In Music: Judy Collins

  1. Judy Deene says:

    Thanks, Eric & Andrea, for this one. Having grown up in much the same milieu, my feelings are very similar. However, I must confess to a certain resentment of Judy Collin’s initial success with Joni Mitchell’s songs. I got over that once Joni Mitchell made it on her own and I learned to enjoy the music of both women equally. So, Happy Birthday “Judy Blue Eyes”.

  2. Wendy Reed says:

    Wonderful, wonderful – thank you, Eric and Andrea! Yes, I was there with you in New Hampshire and we shared a lot of fun times and great music! Recently I met a very young man who proclaims himself as a folk-singer. He has never heard of Judy Collins, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Crosby Stills & Nash–I was afraid to ask if he’d ever heard of the Beatles. Thank you for this wonderful tribute to Judy Collins – I didn’t know her birthday was today! (May 1) Wonderful!

  3. Kathe says:

    I loved this story…it showed me a perspective of my sister that I was unaware of, and now, years later, really enjoyed being finally “in the loop” of this piece of her life… thanks for sharing these past moments. Big hugs to you both…well written too.

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