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Jerry Silverman is an American folksinger, guitar teacher and author of music books. He has had over 200 books published, which have sold in the millions, including folk song collections, anthologies and method books for the guitar, banjo and fiddle. He has taught guitar to hundreds of students. He is currently a folk performer and lecturer at schools, universities and concert halls in the U.S. and abroad.
Silverman's best-selling books are The Folk Song Encyclopedia (a two-volume compilation of over 1,000 folk songs; words, music and guitar chords), Ballads and Songs of the Civil War (piano-vocal with guitar chords), The Guitar Player’s Guide and Almanac (a combined method book and survey of musical, technical and anecdotal information), Of Thee I Sing (patriotic American songs from the Revolutionary War to the present), The Baseball Songbook and The Undying Flame: Ballads and Songs of the Holocaust. The latter book required 9 years of research to recover many songs that were never written to paper. It contains 110 songs in 16 languages - Yiddish, German, Hebrew, Spanish, French, Dutch, Italian, Ladino, Serbo-Croatian, Greek, Norwegian, Czech, Polish, Russian, Hungarian and English. The songs include the works of concentration camp prisoners and inhabitants of the ghettos of Eastern Europe as well anti-Fascist anthems inspired by the Spanish Civil War, Red Army songs and songs of Resistance fighters. Silverman's most recent book, New York Sings, was reviewed by long-time friend and colleague Pete Seeger. Seeger and Silverman were both editors at Sing Out! A Folk Music Magazine in the 1960s.
After his parents had moved to the East Bronx to escape the crowded tenements of the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Jerry Silverman grew up in the neighborhood around Allerton Avenue, populated largely by eastern European Jewish immigrant families. His father, Bill (b. London, 1896) and mother Helen (b. Dubrovna, Russia, 1898) were married in the late 1920s, and Gerard “Jerry” Silverman was their only child, born 1931. Bill was a self-employed fabric supplier for Broadway theatrical productions, but was also an accomplished amateur mandolin player. Jerry began taking classical mandolin lessons at the Neighborhood Music School with teacher Matthew Kahn at age 10. Three years later, in 1945, Jerry attended Camp Wo-Chi-Ca (Workers’ Children Camp), where he was exposed to 78 rpm recordings of folk singer Woody Guthrie, blues singer Josh White, and The Almanac Singers. Silverman began teaching himself the guitar when he returned home. When he returned to Wo-Chi-Ca in subsequent years, he was introduced to the music of Pete Seeger through camp counselor Joe Jaffe, who played banjo and guitar with Seeger occasionally. Silverman started studying with Joe at the Neighborhood Music School in 1947, and by 1948 Jaffe suggested that Silverman take over as the guitar teacher at the School when he left. Silverman was 17 years old.
In 1948, Silverman started college at City College of New York. In the spring, the students started a strike to protest an anti-Semitic Spanish professor who was unfairly grading Jewish students. Silverman, along with a few other students, began leading student concerts and rallies with a union flavor. Silverman was also a regular fixture at the Washington Square folk scene. From 1948 to 1951, he regularly played Oscar Brand’s Folksong Festival on WNYC, accompanying singers of many styles and ethnicities, which contributed to his eclectic style of guitar playing.
In 1951, Silverman began writing music transcriptions and arrangements for the new monthly publication ‘’Sing Out!, The Folksong Magazine’’. Eventually, he took on full responsibility as the Music Editor. Fundraising for the magazine led to well-publicized Hootenannys, which were led by Pete Seeger, and where Silverman performed regularly. Many of these “hoots” were recorded on LP, and a notable recording of "Mule-Skinner Blues" included Silverman on lead, accompanied by Seeger and Sonny Terry on harmonica.
In 1952, Silverman was the first non-classical student to graduate from CCNY with a B.S. of Music. He then entered the graduate studies of Musicology program at New York University, also the first folk musician to enter into this program. After writing his Masters Thesis on "the blues guitar”, Macmillan published his first book “Folk Blues” in 1955.
‘’Folkways Records’’ asked Silverman to expand the 16-page instructional brochure that had been inserted into the jacket of Seeger’s ‘’Folkways’’ LP. The book, entitled “The Folksinger’s Guitar Guide” was published in 1962. It was the first guitar instruction book for folksinging guitarists and sold well over 300,000 copies. That publication led Silverman in the direction of writing a long series of other method books and folksong anthologies. He has had over 200 books published since, with the last being “New York Sings!” in March 2009.
He currently lives in Westchester, New York. In 1967, he married Tatiana Cherniacoski and they have 3 children: David (b. 1969), Mikael (b. 1978) and Antoine Silverman (b. 1972).