The Village, as New Yorker’s often call it, has always had a bohemian flare including a diverse and open music scene—one of the many reasons why so many young aspiring songwriters and singers ended up in this part of the city, especially in the 1950s and 1960s.
To get an idea of the role Greenwich Village has played throughout musical history we’ve created a small list of six (now) famous artists whose early careers started out in Greenwich Village.
Hendrix’s career happened fast, made a big impact, and ended too soon. He made the move to Greenwich Village in 1966. Upon arriving he was offered a residency at Café Wha? and spent the year playing New York City clubs with his band Jimmy James and the Blue Flames while developing his famous guitar style.
That same year he met Linda Keith (wife of Rolling Stones Keith Richards) after she was mesmerized by his performance, who connected him with Chas Chandler of The Animals. Chandler saw Hendrix’s potential and the rest is history.
Barbra Streisand grew up in Brooklyn and at a young age knew she had a strong voice but had a passion for acting. Her first real-world involvement with the stage was when she took a night job at Greenwich Village’s Cherry Lane Theater her sophomore year of high school. After graduating high school, she stuck to pursuing a career on the New York City stage until it paid off.
In 1961 Dylan, partly called by his musical idol Woody Guthrie, headed to New York City to play the circuit of popular clubs in Greenwich Village. He got his first taste of recognition after a performance at Gerde’s Folk City and a positive review by New York Times critic Robert Shelton.
Dylan’s second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, was an important album in cementing Dylan’s reputation as an activist in his songwriting. One of Dylan’s most famous songs ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’, featured on his second album, was written in a Greenwich Village café.
Simon & Garfunkel
Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel recorded a few songs together under an array of different names while attending college in New York City. It wasn’t until Art graduated college (a backup in case their music career didn’t pan out) that the duo performed a few new songs, one being ‘The Sound of Silence’, at Gerde’s Folk City in Greenwich Village.
The new songs caught the attention of Columbia producer Tom Wilson, who was at the time working with the likes of Bob Dylan. After auditioning in the studio, the duo was signed to the label. Their career had a slow start, but it was ultimately Wilson who helped launch them into mainstream success.
James Taylor moved to New York City to give his music career a kick start in 1966, forming a band with his childhood pal called The Flying Machine. His self-written songs led the band’s way to regular performances at the Night Owl Café in Greenwich Village.
Taylor often played guitar in Washington Square Park when he was feeling down. Taylor’s days in the Village were a little dark but ultimately his connections during that time played a role in his path to big success.
Singer and piano player Norah Jones began her early career in Greenwich Village. Working at a hotel waiting tables in the heart of the Village, the diverse jazz vibes rooted in the neighborhood encouraged Jones to write her own songs.
After only two years of living in New York, Norah, with her classic bluesy voice, signed with Blue Note Records.
Greenwich Village has always been a creative center for musicians, that’s why we’ve teamed up with The Village Trip and host Richard Barone to bring you a new Village salon series ‘Village Nights’. Taking place in our North Square Lounge, we invite you to spend an evening enjoying and connecting with musicians who have their roots in New York City. Read more about the series and the line-up on our website.