Cohen, Ronald D., 1940-

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Ronald D. Cohen, professor of history at Indiana University Northwest-Gary, 1970-2005, wrote and edited numerous books and articles, many about American folk music, and co-produced compilations of folk and topical songs. He edited "Red Dust and Broadsides: A Joint Autobiography," written by Agnes Cunningham (Sis) and her husband Gordon Friesen. Sis Cunningham was a songwriter and musician who performed with the Almanac Singers, a 1940s group of folk musicians, and the Red Dust Players, a 1939 radical agitprop group that performed plays in aid of the Southern Tenant Farmers Union. Gordon Friesen was a newspaper journalist and artist. Cunningham and Friesen fled anti-Communist harassment in Oklahoma and moved to New York City where they founded and published "Broadside," a magazine that documented topical and folk songs, beginning in the early 1960s.

From the description of Ronald D. Cohen collection, 1914-2005. WorldCat record id: 64184832

Ronald Dennis Cohen was born in Los Angeles, Calif. on 3 August 1940. He graduated from North Hollywood High School and attended college at the University of California-Berkeley, graduating with a degree in history in 1962. He continued studying history as a graduate student at the University of Minnesota-Minneapolis, earning a masters degree in 1964 and a PhD in 1967. In 1965, Cohen married his first wife, with whom he had two children. In 1974, Cohen moved to Gary, Ind., where he taught history at Indiana University Northwest, Gary, beginning in 1970.

Ronald Cohen has written numerous books and articles, chiefly on the subjects of education and American folk music. These works include Rainbow Quest: The Folk Music Revival and American Society, 1940-1970 (2002) and Folk Music: The Basics (2006). Cohen also edited many books, including Red Dust and Broadsides: A Joint Autobiography (1999), written by Agnes Cunningham (Sis) and Gordon Friesen.

In 1996, Cohen co-produced (with Dave Samuelson) Songs for Political Action: Folk Music, Topical Songs and the American Left, 1926-1954, a ten-CD Bear Family Records box set. His other recording projects include The Best of Broadside: 1962-1988: Anthems of the American Underground From the Pages of Broadside Magazine, a five-CD box set released on Smithsonian Folkways Recordings in 2000.

Ronald Cohen's other professional activities include serving as president of Historians of American Communism, 2000-2003, and acting as co-director of the Calumet Regional Archives at Indiana University Northwest. He became a Professor of History Emeritus at Indiana University Northwest, Gary, in 2004, and remarried in 2005.

Sis Cunningham was born 19 February 1909 in Watonga, Okla. She grew up in a family of poor sharecroppers, playing and writing music from a young age. Cunningham attended Oklahoma State College for Women and taught music briefly after graduating. In 1931, Cunningham spent a summer at Commonwealth College, a socialist school in Mena, Ark. After leaving Commonwealth, Sis Cunningham organized for the Southern Tenant Farmers Union, then worked briefly as music director at the Southern School for Women Workers in Asheville, N.C. In 1939, she became a founding member of the Red Dust Players, a traveling agitprop group that wrote and performed radical plays with the goal of mobilizing poor workers.

In 1941, Cunningham met and married Gordon Friesen, a radical newspaper journalist and artist also from Oklahoma. Fleeing harassment because of Communist affiliations, Cunningham and Friesen moved to New York City. They moved into Almanac House, a Greenwich Village house shared by topical singing group the Almanac Singers. Sis Cunningham became a member of the Almanac Singers, which included Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. Cunningham and Friesen moved to Detroit briefly, returning to New York City in 1944. Cunningham continued her association with the topical song movement, writing and playing songs with People's Songs, while Friesen worked for the Office of War Information. Their daughters, Jane and Agnes, were born in the late 1940s.

Sis Cunningham and Gordon Friesen founded Broadside, a magazine that documented topical and folk songs, in the early 1960s. Broadside operated on a minimal budget and was published out of Cunningham and Friesen's apartment. Many topical folksingers, including Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Janis Ian, and Tom Paxton, had songs published in Broadside early in their careers, and the magazine played a central role in the folk revival.

Photo-Sound Associates was organized by Aaron Rennert, Ray Sullivan,and Joel Katz in Greenwich Village in connection with Lee Hoffman and Caravan magazine to document the folk revival movement in New York City. Rennert and Sullivan did the photographing, while Katz recorded the concerts.

From the guide to the Ronald D. Cohen Collection, 1914-2005, (bulk 1940-2005), (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Library. Southern Folklife Collection.)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Ronald D. Cohen Collection, 1914-2005, (bulk 1940-2005) University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Library. Southern Folklife Collection.
referencedIn Bauman, Mordecai. Papers, 1926-2000. New-York Historical Society
creatorOf Ronald D. Cohen Collection, 1914-2005, (bulk 1940-2005) University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Library. Southern Folklife Collection.
referencedIn Mordecai Bauman Papers, 1926-2006 Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Almanac Singers corporateBody
associatedWith Almanac Singers. corporateBody
associatedWith Bauman, Mordecai. person
associatedWith Bernice Reagon person
associatedWith Bob Dylan person
associatedWith Country Joe McDonald person
associatedWith Cunningham, Sis, 1909-2004. person
associatedWith Dane, Barbara. person
associatedWith Dave Van Ronk person
associatedWith Dunson, Josh, 1941- person
associatedWith Dylan, Bob, 1941- person
associatedWith Eric Anderson person
associatedWith Friesen, Gordon, 1909-1996. person
associatedWith Guthrie, Woody, 1912-1967. person
associatedWith Ian, Janis. person
associatedWith Indiana University Northwest corporateBody
associatedWith Izzy Young person
associatedWith John Cohen person
associatedWith Marrs, Ernie. person
associatedWith McCarthy, Joseph, 1908-1957. person
associatedWith Ochs, Phil. person
associatedWith Odetta person
associatedWith Oscar Brand person
associatedWith Peter Yarrow person
associatedWith Phil Ochs person
associatedWith Red Dust Players. corporateBody
associatedWith Reuss, Richard A. person
associatedWith Reynolds, Malvina. person
associatedWith Sammy Walker person
associatedWith Seeger, Pete, 1919- person
associatedWith Silber, Irwin, 1925-2010. person
associatedWith Southern Tenant Farmers' Union. corporateBody
associatedWith Studs Terkel person
associatedWith Walker, Sammy. person
associatedWith Weavers corporateBody
associatedWith Weberman, Alan J. person
associatedWith Woody Guthrie person
associatedWith Young, Izzy. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
United States
New York (State)
Anti-communist movements
Central business districts
Folk music
Folk musicians
Folk songs
Freedom of speech
Popular music
Popular music
Protest songs
Topical songs


Birth 1940-08-03





Ark ID: w6p021nq

SNAC ID: 41305863