Jack Landron
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Jack Landron


Band Folk World


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The best kept secret in music


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Jackie Washington ? (LP, Album) Vanguard 1962

Jackie Washington / Vol.2 ? (LP, Album) Vanguard 1963

Jackie Washington At Club 47 ? (LP, Album) Vanguard 1965

Morning Song ? ? (2 versions)

Curbside Cotillion (LP, Album) Kingswood Records 2012


Feeling a bit camera shy


Jack Landron is an iconic folk singer performing under the name Jackie Washington. His new work is both a return and a debut. The return is of Jackie Washington, Vanguard Recording Society artist and one of the most popular performers at Cambridge's legendary Club 47 in the heyday of the 1960s folk revival. The debut is of Jack Landrón, an Afro-Puerto Rican actor, singer, and songwriter who has appeared in theater, film, and television and written several musical shows, but never made a record. Both are the same person, born Juan Candido Washington y Landrón, but if this album brings back memories for Jackie Washington’s old fans, it will also bring surprises. Washington was known for his onstage wit and charm, and his sensitive reshaping of ballads and songs from a wide range of folk traditions, but not primarily as a songwriter.

This time, Landrón is putting his songs front and center, and framing them not only with his guitar but with piano, strings, reeds, and Latin percussion. “The idea was to look at what I do from a different perspective,” he says. “These are recognizably art songs, written to be modern-sounding, not folk-type songs, though the themes are treated from a folksinger’s viewpoint. They are the experiences, observations, and points of view that I have as a result of being a disciple of Pete Seeger, who profoundly touched me with the idea that life really is a shared experience and people can sing together, we can have a good time together, we don’t have to kill each other, we don’t have to put each other down. Those sentiments continue to mean a great deal to me, even though in other ways I’m not like Pete Seeger: I don’t want to wear work boots and hang out in union halls and stuff like that—I want upholstered furniture and Italian shoes.”

Landrón notes that he had a very different background from most people on the sixties folk scene. “I’m a Puerto Rican black man, and folk music was not something I discovered at Club 47. It was part of my daily life and the lives of my family and neighbors. I’d heard gospel music and R&B hits blared from speakers in the record stores where they sold tickets to those artists’ shows. I was familiar with the music of people like Clara Ward and the Ward Singers, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and the Blind Boys of Alabama. At the parties I attended I heard records of Johnny Ace, the Clovers, and Ruth Brown. At home we listened to Ramito, Tito Rodríguez, and Los Panchos. I listened to the Grand Ole Opry religiously, and my mother’s kitchen radio brought the music of Bing Crosby, Kate Smith and Vaughan Monroe into the house.”

“I loved folk music, but I also liked Dean Martin and Bing Crosby. I loved Harry Belafonte, I loved Eartha Kitt, I loved Pearl Bailey. And I could listen to all of that at the same time, I did not think it had to be separated or pigeonholed. I sometimes got labeled as being too “slick,” because I liked the fact that Harry Belafonte looked good and all the women wanted to sleep with him. I liked the fact that black people didn’t have to be exotic trifles. And that thinking influenced the persona of Jackie Washington, the folk singer.”

Landrón enjoyed the Club 47 and the people he was meeting around Harvard Square, but he never really felt at home there, and he found a new direction when he traveled to Mississippi in 1964 as part of the Civil Rights movement. Many folksingers went south to sing for rallies, but he chose to stay, joining the movement and helping to form the Free Southern Theater, with which he toured as an actor. He made his last record in 1967, then moved to New York, reclaimed Landrón as his professional name, and concentrated on his acting career.

Ironically, though he made fewer appearances as a singer Landrón was continuing to grow as a songwriter. Many of the songs on this album were created in the 1970s as part of Thirteenth Street Suite, a musical portrait of his block in New York. “I had hepatitis and I didn’t have anything to do except to get better, so I moved a chair out onto the fire escape and I would sit there and look at the street life, and songs would come to me. I’m not a musician, but things sing to me, I see poetry and music in everything, and some of that gets written down.”

Though Landrón never stopped singing and writing, he says he is as surprised as anyone to find a new album coming out in 2012. The catalyst was filmmaker Todd Kwait, who became a fan while making a documentary on the Cambridge folk scene, For The Love of The Music: The Club 47 Folk Revival. “I discovered that Jack was the big gun at the 47,” Kwait recalls. “So I tracked down his four Vanguard LPs and interviewed him for the film. And the instant I met him I realized that he is a one-of-a-kind entertainer and I wanted to record him.”

The album, Curbside Cotillion, was released by Kingswood Records in 2012.