The New Christy Minstrels are an American folk music group founded by Randy Sparks in 1961. They 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.

History

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."

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 (CL1872/CS8672). 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 a cover of 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 their second album, The New Christy Minstrels In Person in February 1963 (CL2141/CS8741), which had been 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 called Ramblin' (CL2055/CS8855) which featured "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.

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". Sparks still continued to run The New Christy Minstrels along with the group's managers, George Greif and Sid Garris. 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, Sparks's wife, 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 a comedy, Advance to the Rear, featuring Glenn Ford and Stella Stevens. The corresponding soundtrack by The New Christy Minstrels was released in May 1964 as Today (CL2159/CS8959). 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.

By the mid-1960s The New Christy Minstrels were finding themselves increasingly at odds with the folk music community. While folk music had become more morally and politically reflective, Sparks insisted that his group should entertain and produce music that made people "forget about problems". The group's ensemble singing of folk music was becoming less relevant to the newer, "activist" folk music. In late 1964, Sparks sold his share of the group to Greif and Garris for $2.5 million to devote all his attention to Ledbetters and The Back Porch Majority.

After the group toured Europe in early 1965, McGuire left to embark on a solo career, and this spelt 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 of the Back Porch Majority. 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.

The New Christy Minstrels continued under the management of Greif and Garris until 1991, making several more records, including a folk-pop album of Motown hits, On Tour Through Motortown. 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.

Randy Sparks, who had spent more than thirty years as Burl Ives' writer and opening act in concert, found himself with time on his hands after Ives' death in 1995, and he sought to rebuild the group he had founded. He leased the entity from Greif and Garris to begin the experimentation, then eventually bought it back. His long-time friend Fats Johnson had quietly trademarked the world-famous name, and when 'the big man' was dying of complications from diabetes, a deal was struck, and The NCM was once again 'Under The Direction (and ownership) of Randy Sparks.'

2010 and Forward

Always seen by Sparks as a work in progress, the trial and error procedure of selecting the right personnel to recreate the excitement of old finally succeeded in May 2010, and the ultimate shake-down cruise, 33 major concerts in 54 days, took place in October and November. The enterprise would seem to once again occupy the fast lane. Recent accomplishments include The City Of Palm Springs' award of The NCM's own star on the P.S. Walk Of Stars.

The New Christy Minstrels Foundation

The New Christy Minstrels is now owned and operated by The New Christy Minstrels Foundation, a bona fide charity, its purpose being to conserve the body of NCM music, and to share with young people the wisdom that real music is more than just something that vibrates your car.

Website www.newchristyminstrelsfoundation.org

Name

The New Christy Minstrels' peculiar name has to do with Stephen Foster. It was in Foster's biography that Randy Sparks found hope. More than a hundred years earlier, this pioneer of songwriters had a pile of good compositions that nobody wanted, and he'd solved his problem by leaning on the most popular group of his day, Christy's Minstrels.

Note

Christy's Minstrels, a blackface group formed by Philadelphia-born showman Edwin Pearce Christy in 1842. Using largely white performers in blackface, Christy's Minstrels sang Negro spirituals and contemporary songs, and popularized the concept of the minstrel show.

Past members

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Nearly 300 people have been members of the New Christy Minstrels. Famous alumni of the group include:

David G. Moyer,

Kenny Rogers,

The Byrds' Gene Clark (d. 1991),

Kim Carnes,

John Denver,

Larry Ramos, who went on to join The Association at their peak,

Baxter Taylor (ex-The Wayfarers Trio),

Barry McGuire of "Eve Of Destruction" fame,

Peggy Connelly (d. 2007),

Karol Dugan,

Gayle Caldwell (d. 2009),

Karen Gunderson,

Debbie Rindy,

Ann White,

Gareth Fishbaugh,

Tom Ryan (presently with Cubensis),

Michael Umphrey,

Nick Woods (d. 1971),

Barry Kane,

Karen Black,

Keith Barbour,

Terry Anne Meeuwsen, former Miss America,

Jerry Yester brother of The Association's Jim Yester,

Susan Palmer Marshall,

Rex Kramer (longest touring member) and played the Command Performance for the Queen of England,

Thelma Camacho,

Mike Settle,

Terry Williams,

The last three were original founders of The First Edition, along with Kenny Rogers. In the early 1970s, the group's roster included future Broadway stars Christine Andreas and Linda Hart.

Partial discography

Presenting The New Christy Minstrels (aka Exciting New Folk Chorus) (1962),

The New Christy Minstrels In Person (1963),

The New Christy Minstrels Tell Tall Tales! (Legends and Nonsense) (1963),

Ramblin' (1963),

Merry Christmas! (1963),

Today and Other Songs from 'Advance to the Rear' (1964),

Land of Giants (1964),

Quiet Sides of the New Christy Minstrels (1965),

The New Christy Minstrels Sing and Play Cowboys and Indians (1965),

Chim Chim Cher-ee and Other Happy Songs (1965),

The Wandering Minstrels (1965),

In Italy...In Italian (1966),

New Kick! (1966),

Christmas with the Christies (1966),

On Tour Through Motortown (1968),

Big Hits from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (with Arthur Treacher) (1968),

You Need Someone to Love (1970),

The Great Soap Opera Themes (1977),

Live from Ledbetter's (1999),

Merry Christmas, Volume II: 42 Years Later (2005),

The Kick (2008),

Recycled: What's Old Is New (2009)