Guy Carawan
Guy Carawan, ca. 1990
Guy Carawan, ca. 1990
Background information
Birth nameGuy Hughes Carawan Jr.
BornJuly 28, 1927
Los Angeles
DiedMay 2, 2015 (aged 87)
New Market, Tennessee
GenresFolk music
Occupation(s)Folk musician, musicologist
Instrument(s)Guitar, hammer dulcimer
Years active1950–2015

Guy Hughes Carawan Jr. (July 28, 1927 – May 2, 2015) was an American folk musician and musicologist. He served as music director and song leader for the Highlander Research and Education Center in New Market, Tennessee.

Carawan is famous for introducing the protest song "We Shall Overcome" to the American Civil Rights Movement, by teaching it to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1960. A union organizing song based on a black spiritual, it had been a favorite of Zilphia Horton (d. 1956) wife of the founder of the Highlander Folk School. Carawan reintroduced it at the school when he became its new music director in 1959. The song is copyrighted in the name of Horton, Frank Hamilton, Carawan and Pete Seeger.[1]

Carawan sang and played banjo, guitar, and hammered dulcimer. He frequently performed and recorded with his wife, singer Candie Carawan. The couple had two children, Evan Carawan and Heather Carawan. Occasionally Guy was accompanied by their son Evan Carawan, who plays mandolin and hammered dulcimer. [1]

Early life

Carawan was born in California in 1927, to Southern parents. His mother, from Charleston, South Carolina,[2] was the resident poet at Winthrop College (now Winthrop University) in Rock Hill, South Carolina, and his father, a veteran of World War I from North Carolina,[2] worked as an asbestos contractor. He described his parents "He was a poor farm boy and she was a Charlestonian blue blood".[2] He earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Occidental College in 1949 and a master's degree in sociology from UCLA.

Through his friend Frank Hamilton, Carawan was introduced to musicians in the People's Songs network, including Pete Seeger and The Weavers. Moving to New York City, he became involved with the American folk music revival in Greenwich Village in the 1950s.

Career at Highlander Center

Carawan first visited the Highlander Folk School in 1953, with singers Ramblin' Jack Elliot and Frank Hamilton. At the recommendation of Pete Seeger, he returned in 1959 as a volunteer, taking charge of the music program pioneered by Zilphia Horton, who had died in an accident in 1956.

Here is the story of how he got the Highlander position from Guy himself:

"I called Myles; I'd met him before. He said Highlander needed a musical director. My job would be to help get people singing and sharing their songs. When someone began to sing, I'd back them up softly on my guitar so they'd get courage and keep going. Sometimes in sharing a song, people find bonds between themselves that they never knew they had. I can't tell you how many pictures I have of myself standing behind other people, accompanying them on the guitar. I took the job, just for a year--that was thirty years ago"[2]

According to his wife Candie, one of Guy's most important roles during the Civil Rights Movement — more so than introducing "We Shall Overcome" as a Freedom Song — was his desire to record and archive the evolution of the movement through song. Both Guy and Candie believe that the political usage of religious and folk music could shape movements and influence people to take action in social change, and Guy's initiative to record and preserve the already established Freedom Songs within the movement are used to inspire and to educate future leaders and activists.[3]

Movement leader Rev. C. T. Vivian, a lieutenant of Martin Luther King Jr. reminisced:

I don't think we had ever thought of spirituals as movement material. When the movement came up, we couldn't apply them. The concept has to be there. It wasn't just to have the music but to take the music out of our past and apply it to the new situation, to change it so it really fit. ... The first time I remember any change in our songs was when Guy came down from Highlander. Here he was with this guitar and tall thin frame, leaning forward and patting that foot. I remember James Bevel and I looked across at each other and smiled. Guy had taken this song, "Follow the Drinking Gourd" – I didn't know the song, but he gave some background on it and boom – that began to make sense. And, little by little, spiritual after spiritual began to appear with new words and changes: "Keep Your Eyes on the Prize, Hold On" or "I'm Going to Sit at the Welcome Table". Once we had seen it done, we could begin to do it.[4]

At Highlander's April workshop, Carawan had met Candie Anderson, an exchange student at Fisk University in Nashville, from Pomona College in California, who was one of the first white students involved in the sit-in movement.[1] As a couple they traveled the south hosting workshops to influence people to embrace in the Civil Rights Movement's music. They also travelled the world influencing activists. They visited England and attended the World Festival of Youth and Students in the Soviet Union in 1957, continuing onward to the People's Republic of China. They married in March 1961.

Guy and Candie Carawan lived in New Market, near the Highlander Center.[1]

Guy remained the musical director at Highlander till his retirement in the late 1980s.[1]

The Guy and Candie Carawan Collection (1955-2010) is located in the Southern Folklife Collection of the Wilson Library of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.[5]



Documentary Recording Projects

Personal Recordings

Included on Albums with Others


  1. ^ a b c d e Neely, Jack (2005). Lifelong Students, Eternal Activists. Metro Pulse (Internet Archive).
  2. ^ a b c d S., A.; Seeger, Pete; Reiser, Bob (1990). "Everybody Says Freedom: A History of the Civil Rights Movement in Songs and Pictures, including Many Songs Collected by Guy and Candie Carawan". Yearbook for Traditional Music. 22: 160. doi:10.2307/767952. ISSN 0740-1558. JSTOR 767952.
  3. ^ "Candie Carawan and Guy Hughes Carawan oral history interview conducted by Joseph Mosnier in New Market, Tennessee, 2011 September 19". Retrieved August 19, 2021.
  4. ^ Interview, 1983, quoted in Sing For Freedom: The Story of the Civil Rights Movement Through Its Songs, 1990, p. 4.
  5. ^ "Guy and Candie Carawan Collection, 1955-2010". Retrieved November 6, 2017.
  6. ^ "Jubilee Community Arts Unveils 1961 Recordings by May Justus", Metro Pulse, Knoxville, Tennessee, December 7, 2011, archived from the original on January 28, 2013
  7. ^ "May Justus, The Carawan Recordings". Knoxville, Tennessee: Jubilee Community Arts. Retrieved July 15, 2012.

Video references