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"A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do." -Bob Dylan
Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. August 28, 1963
(Public Domain Photo/National Archives)
The song and dance man known today as Bob Dylan was born Robert Allen Zimmerman on May 24th 1941 to Beatty and Abraham at St. Mary’s Hospital in Duluth, Minnesota. It has been said that at five years old Robert gave his first public performance when he sang “Some Sunday Morning” and “Accentuate The Positive” to his mother on Mother’s Day. In 1947, the Zimmerman family left Duluth and headed northwest into the Mesabi Iron Range, settling in the town of Hibbing.
In 1955, Robert formed his first band, The Golden Chords. This was just one of the short-lived bands formed by Robert prior to his graduation from Hibbing High School and beginning classes at the University of Minneapolis in 1959. Aside from starting various bands, evidence of Robert’s dedication to music can be found in his senior yearbook goal to join Little Richard's band.
While a student at the University of Minneapolis, rumor has it that Robert went into a coffee house and asked to play guitar. When asked his name he replied, Bob Dylan.
Bob Dylan then began playing at the Ten-O-Clock Scholar Coffee House. After quitting this gig he began performing at various locations around St. Paul, including coffee houses and restaurants.
In 1960, Bob Dylan read Woody Guthrie’s book, Bound for Glory, which had a profound effect on his musical direction and identity. Having begun his Woody Guthrie phase, Dylan continued to play around St. Paul through the remainder of the year.
In 1961, Dylan made his way to Chicago and played a variety of coffee houses. His nights were spent sleeping on any floor that would have him. On his way back to St. Paul, Dylan was offered a seat on a road trip to New York City.
A snow covered New York City greeted the new arrival. It was January 24th 1961 and it was also Hootenanny Night at the Café Wha? Dylan played a couple of songs and found a floor for the evening. The next morning, Dylan headed out for Greystone Hospital to meet his inspiration, Woody Guthrie, who was fading fast from Huntington’s Chorea. A couple of days later, and to their surprise, Dylan showed up at the Guthrie family home. Arlo Guthrie answered the door and let Dylan come inside. While visiting, Dylan gave Arlo some lessons on the harmonica.
Dylan then began performing at various venues including the Café Wha?, The Gaslight, and The Commons. His song list continued to grow as did his popularity. On April 5th 1961, Dylan got his first paying gig in New York City. The show was at the Loeb Music Centre, the pay was twenty bucks. By the close of October Dylan officially signed with Columbia Records and recorded his first album.
Today the self-proclaimed song and dance man continues to do what he always intended to do, albeit not in Little Richard’s band.
This guide was written and created by Timothy J. Fritz, an MLIS and Archival Administration graduate student from Wayne State University. The guide was completed as part of his practicum hours.