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Guitarist, singer, songwriter and native New Yorker Dave Van Ronk has inspired, aided and promoted the careers of numerous singer/songwriters who came up in the blues tradition. Most notable of the many musicians he helped over the years was Bob Dylan, whom Van Ronk got to know shortly after Dylan moved to New York in 1961 to pursue a life as a folk/blues singer.

Photo of Dave Van Ronk with Bob Dylan
(Photo of Dave Van Ronk (left) with Bob Dylan (right) backstage during the "Friends of Chile" benefit concert in 1974 at Madison Square Garden, New York City )

Photo of Dave Van RonkAbout Dave Van Ronk
Folk Singer and Songwriter

"The Mayor of MacDougal Street"

Born: June 30, 1936
Died: February 10, 2002

Dave Van Ronk was born on June 30, 1936 in Brooklyn (Kings Co) New York. As a youth he moved to Queens and attended Richmond Hill High School, dropping out at age 15. In 1949 he performed in a barbershop quartet, but joined the Merchant Marines in the early 1950's. He became a professional performer in 1956.

By the late 1950's, he was a regular player at the Village's famous Washington Square, a gathering place for folk and ragtime musicians at the time (until, as Dave humorously later observed, it was taken over by the bongo players!), picking up guitar as his instrument of choice and soon recording several sides for Moses Asch's legendary Folkways label which are anthologized now on "The Folkways Years" CD from Smithsonian (available at Amazon.com), but originally found their way onto several lp's between the late 50's and mid-60's, including "Dave Van Ronk Sings the Blues," "Gambler's Blues," "Blues, Ballads, and a Spiritual," "Black Mountain Blues", and including his early composition, "Bamboo," later covered popularly by Peter, Paul, and Mary.

Dave Van Ronk was a regular in Greenwich Village throughout the 1960's and a regular at the Newport Folk Festival as well. His primary notoriety to the mainstream these days is due mainly to his connection to Bob Dylan, but amongst musicians and folk listeners, he is a legend, and deservedly so. It was clear not only in his musical presentation, but in his between-song commentaries, that Van Ronk approached the often obscure, Black composers of the songs he sang with a love and respect that borders on reverence. His often humorous, often poignant personal recollections about legendary jazz and blues singers were a highlight of his live performances.

Dave Van Ronk died of cardio-pulmonary failure while undergoing post-operative treatment for colon cancer in a New York hospital.