Singer Glenn Yarbrough, who scored hit albums and singles as a solo artist and as founding member of folk trio the Limeliters, died at home in Nashville on Thursday night. He had been in declining health for several years. Yarbrough was 86.
Born in Milwaukee and raised in New York City, Yarbrough attended St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland, where he studied philosophy and recorded his first single in the commons room of his residence hall. According to The Tennessean, in 1950, Yarbrough and his roommate Jac Holzman hosted an impromptu, all-night performance from “This Land Is Your Land” singer Woody Guthrie in their dorm room, prompting Yarbrough to buy a guitar of his own the following day. Holzman would found the Elektra Records label in their dorm room, with the label releasing Yarbrough’s Here We Go, Baby LP in 1957.
Yarbrough performed at the Chicago nightclub Gate of Horn at the invitation of the club’s Albert Grossman, who would go on to manage Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul & Mary and Janis Joplin, among others. In Aspen, Colorado, the singer ran a club called the Limelite and was joined by musicians Alex Hassilev and Lou Gottleib in forming the group named after the club. Their debut LP was released on Elektra in 1960. He left the group in 1963, but Yarbrough would rejoin the Limeliters occasionally for reunion tours. An entirely new audience was exposed to the Limeliters’ music in 2013 when their song “Take My True Love by the Hand” was featured in “Ozymandias,” one of the most acclaimed episodes of the fifth season of the TV drama Breaking Bad.
Yarbrough’s best-selling solo single was 1965’s “Baby the Rain Must Fall.” He would record and tour until he turned 80, electing to undergo surgery on his larynx in 2010 to try to save his singing voice. In the recovery room, he suffered cardiac arrest, underwent a tracheotomy and was put on a ventilator.
Yarbrough is survived by his three children, Stephany Yarbrough, Sean Yarbrough and Holly Yarbrough Burnett, and son-in-law Robert Burnett.