In 1957, Izzy Young opened his Folklore Center on McDougal Street in the heart of Greenwich Village, just a year and a half before the American folk revival got underway. While folklore centers have since become a recognizable America institution, no one was quite sure what they were or what purpose they served at the time. Young's center, however, quickly became a central locale for the developing music scene in the Village, offering musicians a place to meet, buy song books, and even perform. While Young would never have the name recognition of a song collector like Alan Lomax or a performer like Bob Dylan, his work at the Folklore Center during the '50s and '60s made him one of the most important movers and shakers behind the folk music scene.
Israel Goodman Young was born in New York City on March 26, 1928, and grew up working in his father's bakery in Brooklyn. He attended the High School of Science in the Bronx and was introduced to folk music when he joined Margaret Mayo's American Square Dance Group in 1945. Young attended Brooklyn College, studying pre-med, but left without a degree in 1950 and returned to his father's bakery. During the summer, Young worked as a waiter in the Catskills, and used his experience at Mayo's to lead square dances. In the mid-'50s he met Kenneth Goldstein, a well-known folk music producer, who helped guide the young enthusiast toward his vocation. The association would lead to Young's first folklore catalog, a 15-page compilation listing rare publications. Like Goldstein, he also developed a bent toward "authentic" folk music such as Library of Congress recordings and eschewed popular performers like Harry Belafonte and the Tarriers.
After learning that a vacant lot was available on McDougal Street in February of 1957, Young cashed in a 1,000 dollar insurance policy, covered the lease, and set up shop. "I had about 50 dollars in the bank," Young later told folklorist Richard A. Reuss, "and I had a batch of books I put up on the shelves and a few records and I started doing business from the first minute." Whatever the budding folk musician needed -- sheet music, copies of Sing Out!, used guitars, and rare LPs -- the Folklore Center had it. Young also quickly established a concert series featuring artists like Peggy Seeger, John Cohen, and Paul Clayton. The Center would also be the proving grounds for a number of up-and-coming artists and would proudly sponsor Bob Dylan's first concert in 1961. Young also wrote a "Frets and Frails" column for Sing Out!, a feature that covered the latest happenings in the folk world along with friendly gossip.
Although Young was pretty much at the right place at the right time, the Folklore Center never made him rich. He had little business sense and was known for his generosity to down-and-out folk musicians. Young turned the Folklore Center over to Rick Altman in 1973, and then relocated to Sweden, where he opened the Folklore Centrum.