Goodnight, Irene
The Weavers

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

Director: Duke Goldstone
Music & Lyrics: traditional / Huddie "Lead Belly" Ledbetter

The Weavers —

  • Ronnie Gilbert
  • Pete Seeger
  • Lee Hays
  • Fred Hellerman
      [left to right in the video]
Snader Telescriptions: 1951
black & white
3 minutes
July 2012

The Number One hit song of 1950

"Goodnight, Irene" apparently began as a traditional folk song, but was reworked lyrically and musically by Huddie Ledbetter ("Lead Belly" or "Leadbelly"), who began singing it around 1908 and first recorded it in 1934.

The Weavers' version of "Goodnight, Irene" proved to be a smash hit, Number One on the pop music charts for thirteen weeks in 1950, selling two million copies. Visual recordings of The Weavers from their early days are rare. I like this soundie partly because it includes a brief tribute to Lead Belly.

Goodnight, Irene — The Weavers on film



One hardly can speak about this famous song without mentioning that The Weavers' career was blasted by the "Red Scare" of the late 1940s and early 1950s. The Soviet Union tested their first atomic bomb on 29 August 1949, materially assisted by Communist spies within the American nuclear program; the danger from Soviet Communism loomed vivdly. In addition to investigating actual spies, the U.S. Congress decided to trumpet their anti-Communist vigilance by hassling Communists and fellow-travelers in the entertainment industry. The radio and recording businesses, like Hollywood, responded by self-censorship, blacklisting a variety of mildly suspicious characters, among them the members of The Weavers.

Of course, such accusations were much easier for Congress than purging the American government of its increasingly anti-Constitutional tendencies; and the blacklist was much easier for the entertainment industry than acquiring a spine. Now, it's all part of the historical collision of American folk music and government. The Weavers did manage to reuinite sporadically, but they were at their creative and popular peak in 1950.


© 2012 Robert Wilfred Franson

"Goodnight, Irene" at Wikipedia

The Weavers at
The Vocal Group Hall of Fame

First Soviet Atomic Test Stuns West

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