There are New York icons and then there is Town Hall. For a century, this New York City 1,500-seat, on-profit national historic landmark has hosted countless cultural and musical milestones. Everyone from Billie Holiday to Bob Dylan has performed on its stages.
Judy Collins (Photo by Brian O'Carroll)
Town Hall continues to have a storied history. Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie introduced bebop to the world at Town Hall. When Margaret Sanger spoke to an audience about birth control she was arrested there. Bob Dylan performed his first major concert at Town Hall. The discussion show, America’s Town Meeting of the Air was at town hall featuring guests that included Eleanor Roosevelt, Langston Hughes and Jackie Robinson.
Music legend, folk singer, songwriter and activist Judy Collins first performed at Town Hall in March, 1964 when she was just beginning her recording career. The concert was also recorded and resulted in her first live album.
42 albums, several stop 40 singles, many globe-trotting concerts and decades later, Judy Collins is back at Town Hall. On February 12 Collins will recreate that first Town Hall concert from 1964. She will sing music by Bob Dylan, Tom Paxton, Billy Ed Wheeler and many others. An album will also be recorded as it was half a century ago, with some new materials. Filmed onstage with just Collins and a crew the concert will be streamed at 8pm EST.
“Making this album and concert at The Town Hall, my very first solo appearance at one of the great concert stages in New York, was a joyous event,” she says. “It feels right to go back to the material and time period now with the knowledge and life lessons learned in 2020.”
Jeryl Brunner: How are you staying sane and creatively nurtured during this time?
Judy Collins: I practice most days, playing the piano and singing some of the new songs that I’m writing for my new album “Beauty and Resistance.” It will be released in the Fall of 2021. I keep up with friends and family as much as possible. We Zoom as a continuation of the social dinners my husband and used to have throughout the year. I also read and watch wonderful movies. I should send you my movies list it is amazing! I also write in my journals and keep my exercise up on regular basis. I have a treadmill and a stationary bike in the apartment which helps when it’s snowing.
Jeryl Brunner: Was there a key moment in your life when you knew you had to be an artist?
Judy Collins: I believe my path was chosen for me at a very early age. I started playing the piano at four, sang on my father’s radio shows and performed in the choirs at church and school. There were constantly performances where I learned about not letting my nerves shake me and about taking my time doing what I was supposed to do.
My father also performed in concerts. So when I was little, I traveled with my father and my mother on the road, touring the Northeast when I was four. I sang my first solo, “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” on stage in Butte Montana. It went all right even though it was April. It might have been that moment that I knew that this is what I was going to do. I didn’t have any fear about performing.
Jeryl Brunner: Among your many interests and talents, you are a musical mentor. What does mentoring give you?
Judy Collins: I did not know when I was growing up that I was going to have this career or that it was possible. There was no Great folk Revival when I got my first paycheck. As far as I was concerned it was the passion of this thing that drove me. But what people told me about my work was always tremendously important.
I remember Edward Gordon who ran Ravinia Festival, the Arts Festival outside of Chicago told me in 1968 that I was an artist. He said it in such a way to assure me that I was on the right path. We need that assurance. The applause is wonderful but as my father would tell me “don’t worry about who is in the audience or how many one of them there are. One could be the queen of England.” You never know.
Jeryl Brunner: So many people long to help make change in the world, but feel powerless or don't think they the resources. What would you like to tell them?
Judy Collins: Do what is in front of you. Don’t be afraid. Remember perfection is sometimes your enemy. You find out you can do most anything you set your mind on.