Seymour Solomon, who co-founded Vanguard Records with his brother and made some of the recordings that sparked the folk revival of the 1950s and ’60s, died Thursday July 18 in Lenox, Mass. He was 80.
Seymour and Maynard Solomon, with a $10,000 loan from their father, started Vanguard — with its motto of “recordings for the connoisseur” — as a classical label in 1950. But they branched out, licensing a tape in 1956 of the previous year’s Carnegie Hall concert by the reunited Weavers, the folk act that had disbanded when one of its members, Pete Seeger, was cited for contempt of Congress for refusing to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. The Carnegie concert and the recording were both hits and are often credited with sparking the American folk boom.
Vanguard veered away from classical and started to sign artists who would later be major folk figures, among them Joan Baez, Richard and Mimi Farina, Odetta and Doc Watson.
In the 1960s, Vanguard began recording the Newport Folk Festival, including Bob Dylan’s first appearance there, and later spearheaded a resurgence in blues with recordings from Mississippi John Hurt, Skip James, James Cotton, Junior Wells and Charlie Musselwhite.
Besides being president of Vanguard, Seymour was also often the producer on the albums, often because he wished to satisfy his own tastes and take chances.
Born in New York City, he studied violin at Juilliard and served in the Army Air Corps orchestra during World War II. After the war, he studied music at New York U., wrote criticism for several music magazines and was a music commentator on several New York radio stations.
He traveled to Europe with a tape recorder in 1950 and captured five Bach cantatas performed by the Vienna Philharmonic and the Vienna State Opera. Those became the first recordings for his Bach Guild Label.
The Solomon brothers started to record other more contemporary music — Country Joe and the Fish, Oregon, the Dillards — and in 1986 sold the label to the Welk Record Group. Seymour reacquired the classical recordings in 1990.
In addition to his brother, Solomon is survived by three daughters, a stepson, a sister and nine grandchildren.