Izzy Young, a businessman, political activist and founding patron of the Greenwich Village folk music scene who organized Bob Dylan’s first major concert and devoted decades to supporting other musicians, has died at age 90.
Young’s daughter, Philomene Grandin, said her father died of natural causes Monday at his home in Stockholm. Before he moved to Sweden in 1973 and went into business there, Young ran a folk music shop in New York that nurtured a generation of artists.
Starting in the 1950s, Greenwich Village was the center of a folk music revival that helped launch the careers of Dylan, Joni Mitchell and many others. Young, as much as anyone, made the revival possible. In 1957, he opened the Folklore Center, remembered by Dylan as an “ancient chapel, like a shoebox sized institute,” a vital stopping point where fans and folk performers would stop by for everything from old sheet music to obscure music books.
In 1960, Young had another inspiration — to expand folk music beyond coffeehouses and bring it to a restaurant, an Italian place called Gerde’s. When Dylan moved from Minnesota to New York in the winter of 1961, Gerde’s was an early stop. He played his first professional gig there, in April. A Dylan performance at Gerde’s in September of that year was attended by The New York Times’ Robert Shelton, whose review established Dylan as a rising star and brought him his first record deal.
Young also gave early breaks to other top folk and folk-rock performers, including Mitchell, John Sebastian of the Lovin’ Spoonful and Peter Paul and Mary, and he later befriended Patti Smith. He wrote a column for the folk music publication “Sing Out!” and helped organize a 1961 protest — known and misnamed as “the Beatnik Riot” — after Parks Commissioner Newbold Morris stopped issuing permits for folk musicians in Washington Square Park. It began as a peaceful gathering, but ended with police harassing protesters, shoving some to the ground and carrying others off. The city soon resumed allowing folkies in the park.
A film of the event showed Young telling police that it was not up to “Commissioner Morris to tell the people what kind of music is good or bad. He’s telling people folk music brings degenerates, but it’s not so.”
In Stockholm, Young reopened his shop as the Folklore Centrum. It closed at the end of November because of his age, his daughter said.
The son of Jewish Polish immigrants, Young was born on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. After attending Brooklyn College, he worked for a few years at his father’s bakery before deciding to go into business for himself. Grandin said her father dedicated more than 60 years to promoting folk music and musicians.
She spent several months last year cataloging and packing up Young’s library of some 2,000 titles, with a view to selling it as one collection.
Young is survived by his daughter, a son and three grandchildren.