New Christy Minstrels, The

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New Christy Minstrels, The

New Christy Minstrels, The, American folk group. The New Christy Minstrels were a nine- or ten-member choral and instrumental group that played folk music primarily popular in the early 1960s. Led by Randy Sparks and featuring Barry McGuire, they performed in an earnest, commercial style resulting in a series of successful recordings, including the single “Green, Green” and the albums The Early Years: The Complete Liberty Recordings Plus More (ree. 1960s; rei. 1994); Ramblin’ and Today, as well as television appearances and live performances.

Randy Sparks (b. Leavenworth, Kans., July 29, 1933) was a folk singer-songwriter and leader of The Randy Sparks Trio, which also included his wife, Jackie Miller, and Nick Woods, when he put together The New Christy Minstrels (named after the 19th-century Christy Minstrels led by Edwin P. Christy, remembered for performing the songs of Stephen Foster) in the fall of 1961. Starting with his own group, which also included backup banjo player Billy Cudmore, Sparks added another trio, The Inn Group, consisting of Karol Dugan, John Forsha, and Jerry Yester (later of The Modern Folk Quartet and The Lovin’ Spoonful), as well as blues singer Terry Wads worth and Dolan Ellis. Art Podell joined a little later.

Sparks signed this ten-member group to Columbia Records and recorded a debut album, Presenting the New Christy Minstrels, in April 1962. This was a studio-only ensemble, but at the behest of Columbia, Sparks organized a permanent, performing version. Sparks, Miller, Woods, Ellis, and Podell stayed on, joined by the folk duo Barry and Barry, consisting of Barry McGuire (b. Oklahoma City, Okla., Oct. 15, 1937) and Barry Kane, Peggy Connelly, Larry Ramos, and Clarence Treat. This group debuted at the Troubadour nightclub in Hollywood in July 1962. Sparks also took on business managers George Greif and Sid Garris as partners.

The New Christy Minstrels were regulars on The Andy Williams Show during the 1962–63 television season, beginning in September. In October, Presenting the New Christy Minstrels entered the charts, remaining listed more than 21 months. Also that month Connelly left, replaced by Gayle Caldwell. The group’s second album, a live release called The New Christy Minstrels in Person, entered the charts in February 1963; their third, Tall Tales! Legends and Nonsense, entered in May. That month also saw them win the 1962 Grammy for Best Performance by a Chorus for their first album, which also was nominated for Best Folk Recording., while the group got a Best New Artist nomination. Also in May, Sparks retired from performing with the group, though he continued to direct it.

Dolan Ellis left the New Christy Minstrels in June 1963 and was replaced by Gene Clark. That month their single “Green, Green” (music and lyrics by Barry McGuire and Randy Sparks), on which McGuire sang lead, entered the charts, on its way to a peak in the Top 40 in August, the month that their highest charting album, Ramblin Featuring Green, Green, reached the charts for a run of almost a year and a half, during which it was certified gold. It earned Grammy nominations for Best Folk Recording and Best Performance by a Chorus. The group earned its second Top 40 hit with “Saturday Night” (music and lyrics by Randy Sparks), which peaked in the charts in November. Their Merry Christmas! album came out for the holiday season.

Sparks wrote the songs and score for the film Advance to the Rear, which opened in April 1964. That month the New Christy Minstrels’s sixth album, Today, containing songs from the film, reached the charts on its way to the Top Ten; the LP earned a Grammy nomination for Best Folk Recording. “Today” (music and lyrics by Randy Sparks) peaked in the Top 40 in June. Meanwhile, there had been more personnel changes, as Miller, Caldwell, and Clark left (Clark to join The Byrds) in February and were replaced by Ann White, Karen Gunderson, and Paul Potash.

In July 1964, Randy Sparks sold out his interest in The New Christy Minstrels to George Greif and Sid Garris. In August and September the group appeared on its own summer TV series, The New Christy Minstrels Show, while their seventh album, Land of Giants, reached the charts. In December they recorded the more pop-oriented “Chim Chim Cheree”(music and lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman) from the film Mary Poppins; it became their final chart single. They toured Europe successfully in January 1965, after which McGuire and Potash left, to be replaced by Mike Whalen and Bob Buchanan. (McGuire’s solo recording, “Eve of Destruction” [music and lyrics by Steve Barri and P. F. Sloan] became a #1 hit in September.)

The New Christy Minstrels suffered a commercial disappointment with their eighth album, Cowboys and Indians, which reached the charts in February 1965, but their ninth, ChimChim Cheree, in the charts in June, was more successful and earned them another Grammy nomination for Best Performance by a Chorus. By this point, however, personnel changes were becoming rapid, and the group’s tenth album, The Wandering Minstrels, barely reachedthe charts.

The New Christy Minstrels continued to perform into the 1980s, and even got back into the charts briefly in 1970 with You Need Someone to Love, released on Greif and Garris’s Gregar label. But they are primarily remembered after their heyday as a launching pad for talent. Notably, Larry Ramos, who left in January 1966, became a prominent member of The Association. His replacement, Mike Settle (b. Tulsa, Okla., March 20, 1941), left the group a year later with three other replacement members, Kenny (Kenneth Donald) Rogers (b. Houston, Tex., Aug. 21, 1938), Thelma Camacho, and Terry Williams (b. Hollywood, Calif., June 6, 1947), to form the First Edition, which recorded successfully and from which Rogers later emerged as a solo star.

—William Ruhlmann

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