Remembering “Mayor of Macdougal Street” Dave Van Ronk

Dave Van Ronk at the 1968 Philadelphia Folk Festival | Diana Davies/Courtesy of Smithsonian Folkways

Folk singer & songwriter Dave Van Ronk was born on June 30, 1936, in Brooklyn, NY.  As a young boy enamored with the local jazz and folk music of his day, he learned to play the guitar, and when he was a little older, he played banjo in a group.  He also played piano, possibly inspired by growing up listening to his grandfather play ragtime piano.  Folk singer Odetta may have been the one that first discovered him, because upon hearing his music, she suggested that he perform for the public. It wasn’t long after, in 1957, that he was playing in local coffeehouses.

Dave Van Ronk grew up as an integral part of Greenwich Village’s folk culture, surrounded by musician friends including Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Tom Paxton, Phil Ochs, and Suzanne Vega, among others.  He received the nickname “Mayor of Macdougal Street” because he was a prominent figure in the music scene there, and welcomed the musicians of his generation, and the next, into his apartment home, where he cooked wonderful meals for them.

From left to right: unknown, Suze Rotolo, unknown, Bob Dylan, Dave Van Ronk

Janis Ian once said of Ronk, “‘He was an amazing magnetic drawing force. He was a song encyclopedia, first and foremost, and he was a great raconteur. And there was something about Dave that made you feel safe and challenged at the same time. I would play him a new song and wait and hope.” Dave Van Ronk passed away in 2002.

Here is Dave Van Ronk’s wonderful song version of the poem the “Song Of The Wandering Aengus” by W.B. Yeats. It was recorded live in concert at Sir George Williams University, Montreal, Quebec on January 27, 1967.

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