Cisco Houston Web Site

Ol' Pals

Remembering Cisco Houston

George Pickow

Cisco and Woody at Camp Unity in the 40s

I remember Cisco Houston being at Camp Unity in upstate New York in the early 1940's, during the war. The camp's cultural director was Lewis Allan (Abe Meeropol, who wrote the lyrics to Great July Jones). Cisco Houston and Woody Guthrie would jam almost every night in a tiny cabin. People would cram in to hear them. Our night watchman was Lee Hays (of The Almanac Singers and later The Weavers) and when I was painting sets late at night Lee would come in and play piano for me for hours.

Some of the weekend performers I remember are Josh White - he was there most weekends. Sometimes Betty Sanders would sing or accompany Josh. The dancer Pearl Primus came often. Elmer Bernstein gave a classical concert every Wednesday night and played in the Saturday night show many times. There was a camp chorus which performed often under the leadership of Earl Robinson. The staff folksingers were Bob Decormier and his wife.

The irony of all this is that Cisco and Woody were never asked to be on the weekend show. But as performers they were more popular with the campers than any of the others. Everyone was always fighting to get into whatever little room they were in at the time, asking for different songs they liked and singing along with them.

-- George Pickow (noted photographer and husband of folk legend Jean Ritchie)

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