Folk singer Dave Van Ronk, a central figure in the Greenwich Village folk scene of the 1960s, died of complications from colon cancer at New York University Medical Center on February 10th; he was sixty-five. Van Ronk was diagnosed with the cancer late last year and underwent surgery and chemotherapy in November.
Born in Brooklyn in 1936, Van Ronk moved into Manhattan’s Greenwich Village in his teens, where he began recording in 1957 with Sings Ballads, Blues and a Spiritual. Van Ronk had a handful of recordings under his belt for Moses Asch’s legendary Folkways label, before he befriended and served as an early mentor to Bob Dylan in the early Sixties, when the latter moved from Minnesota to New York. Van Ronk was particularly prolific that decade, recording and releasing more than a dozen albums that make up his four-decade, thirty-plus-record career, as he found himself at the center of a nurturing folk circle that included Dylan, “Ramblin'” Jack Elliot, Phil Ochs and others.
Early in his career, Van Ronk was best-known for his interpretations of old folk and blues recordings, offering new arrangements of older blues songs like “House of the Rising Sun” and “He Was a Friend of Mine.” A terrific finger-picker, Van Ronk was also an able songwriter, a talent he didn’t always showcase, but one captured on his mid-Eighties album, Going Back to Brooklyn, which featured only Van Ronk originals. His final release was 2001’s Sweet and Lowdown, a collection of swinging standards that focused on Van Ronk’s jazzier side.
In December 1997, Van Ronk was awarded ASCAP’s Lifetime Achievement Award. He is survived by his wife, Andrea Vuocolo.