Erik Darling, 74, Leader in Folk Revival
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Erik Darling, who died Sunday at 74, journeyed to New York to sing in Washington Square Park in the 1950s and became part of the folk music revival, with hits including “The Banana Boat Song” and “Walk Right In.”
He was also Pete Seeger’s hand-picked successor as tenor/banjoist when Mr. Seeger left the Weavers in 1958.
Born September 25, 1933, in Canandaigua, N.Y., Darling decided not to join the family paint store business and instead came to New York in the early 1950s. There he joined a burgeoning do-it-yourself musical subculture that included singers Harry Belafonte, Bob Dylan, and Mary Travers. Young people met each Sunday for impromptu singing at Washington Square Park.
Equally at home on banjo and guitar, Darling soon formed the Folksay Trio. The group recorded an album in 1951 that included Darling’s arrangement of the traditional “Tom Dooley” — the same arrangement, according to several historians of the era, that became folk music’s first big hit, in 1958, for the Kingston Trio.
Darling went on to form the Tarriers (initially the Tunetellers), and his arrangement of “The Banana Boat Song” (best known today in Mr. Belafonte’s version) became a Top 10 hit in 1957. The Tarriers appeared singing “The Banana Boat Song” in the movie “Calypso Heat Wave” (1958), and band member Alan Arkin went on to a notable acting career.
In 1958, Darling joined the Weavers and toured with the seminal folk foursome for the next four years. He went along with the others members of the group when in 1962 they refused to sign loyalty oaths and were consequently barred from the Jack Parr television show. Darling also appeared playing guitar or banjo on dozens of records by others artists, mainly on the Vanguard label on which the Weavers recorded.
Darling left the Weavers in 1962 to form the Rooftop Singers, who became his most popular group on the strength of “Walk Right In,” a no. 1 that became one of the biggest folk hits of the era. Darling’s innovative arrangement of paired 12-string guitars is often credited with sparking the popularity of that instrument. The group appeared at the Newport Folk Festival in 1963, resulting in a live album. They were especially popular on college campuses and toured until 1967, although they never had another hit.
Darling released a solo album, “The Possible Dream” on Elektra in 1975, and thereafter dropped out of the music scene for a while, occasionally surfacing as a fill-in for Weavers revivals and other folk concerts. He moved to Santa Fe, N.M., where he pursued painting and performed around town. He also taught banjo, numbering Béla Fleck among his students.
He returned to recording in the 1990s, cutting several albums , including one of Christmas songs, for small labels. In June, he published his memoirs, “I’d Give My Life!” which sketched out a journey to self-consciousness as well as a number of wry episodes from his days on the folk circuit. Once, he wrote, the Tarriers were mistaken for a dog act and billed as “The Terriers.”
He leaves no immediate survivors.