Julius Lester

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Though he ultimately became more known for his work in fields other than music, in the mid-'60s Julius Lester recorded two albums of socially conscious folk-blues material with heavy debts to the style…
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Though he ultimately became more known for his work in fields other than music, in the mid-'60s Julius Lester recorded two albums of socially conscious folk-blues material with heavy debts to the style of the early-'60s folk revival. Lester moved to New York from Nashville in 1961, gaining experience as a singer/guitarist on the coffeehouse circuit and also contributing some writing to the leading folk magazine of the time, Sing Out! Maynard Solomon of Vanguard Records offered him a recording deal in mid-1965 after seeing Lester perform at a Sunday hootenanny, his self-titled debut LP coming out on the label that year. Though the lyrics of his compositions reflected topical issues of the day such as the civil rights movement, and some of his songs and guitar work reflected the American country-blues form, stylistically he was a bit of a throwback to the smoother folk-blues delivery of artists such as Josh White and Brother John Sellers. At times he recorded extended tracks that were quite radical in length for the era, like his 13-minute version of "Stagolee" on Julius Lester and, on his 1967 follow-up Departures, "Dressed Like Freedom" and "Long Hot Summer Days," both of which hovered around the ten-minute mark. Lester's focus switched from music to writing when a piece he'd written for Sing Out! grew into a 1968 book, Look Out, Whitey! Black Power's Gon' Get Your Mama! He also worked as a photographer, going to Vietnam in 1967 in his position of house photographer for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, and then moved into the field of children's books, publishing several dozen volumes in the genre. He's also been a professor at the University of Massachusetts. Material from his two Vanguard albums was compiled for the 2006 CD Dressed Like Freedom.