Songs for the Season

Unique Musical Programs

Burl Ives Role Model

I’m doing one of Burl Ives’ most famous numbers in Ride of Your Life “Big Rock Candy Mountain” which is also a favorite of mine. I’ve been trying to work out my relationship with Ives and his material for some time now. It is true that I have strangers telling me that I remind them of Burl Ives and when they find out I’m a singer they assume I’m doing his material. What an opportunity. I do two songs he made famous in Santa Songs and plan to do others in my other programs.

Burl Ives was an actor, folk singer and recording artist popular in the 1950’s and ‘60’s. He temporarily abandoned formal education (he had been planning a career as a football coach) for the school of hard knocks when and wandered the country hitching rides, working odd jobs and street singing with his banjo, picking up new songs as he went along. He first became famous as a folk singer who had collected a large repertoire of American music during his travels. His radio show “The Wayfaring Stranger” was also the title of his autobiography published in 1948. He began a stage career in summer theatre and made his Broadway debut in 1938, his movie debut as a singing cowboy in 1946. In 1952 Ives played the role of “Ben Rumson” both on Broadway and on tour in “Paint Your Wagon.” Loewe and Lerner were said to have added three songs especially for Ives.

As a recording artist he was prolific and particularly popular (singing novelty numbers and songs for children) even crossing over into Country music for a time. He is remembered today for his film performances, recordings and his narration of the TV special “Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer.”

His natural, straight forward singing style was distinctive and greatly admired as was his personable nature. He was widely thought of as everyone’s favorite “Uncle,” although his stage and screen roles encompassed a range from benign to blaggard and even fantastic (playing genies and snowmen).

I’ve given a lot of thought to doing an Ives tribute show and I’m not closed to the notion, but I haven’t committed to it just yet. Still there are a few things I find irresistible about him and his work. There is much to learn from his singing style, his commitment to his unique repertoire and his personal charm.

Sources:;;; accessed 4/24/14.


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