Peter La Farge (born Oliver Albee La Farge; April 30, 1931 – October 27, 1965) was an American singer–songwriter.

Peter La Farge
Birth nameOliver Albee La Farge
Born(1931-04-30)April 30, 1931
OriginUnited States
DiedOctober 27, 1965(1965-10-27) (aged 34)
GenresFolk music
Instrument(s)Vocals, guitar
Years active1962–1965
LabelsFolkways, MGM
Partner(s)Inger Nielsen

Early life and education edit

Born Oliver Albee La Farge in 1931 to Oliver La Farge, a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and anthropologist, and Wanden (née Matthews) La Farge, a Rhode Island heiress.[1][2] The family moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where his younger sister Povy was born in 1933.[2] His parents divorced in 1937.[2][3]

La Farge grew up partly in New Mexico and partly on the Kane Ranch in Colorado, although he did not get along well with his stepfather.[2][3] He shared a love and respect with his father for the histories and cultures of Native Americans, with which his father was deeply involved in study. He later became estranged from his father, changed his given name to Peter, and at times would even claim, falsely, that he was adopted.[1][2][3]

Peter went to Fountain-Fort Carson High School but left before graduating.[3] Around this time, he appeared in local theatrical amateur nights, and in 1946/47 he sang cowboy songs on Colorado Springs radio stations KVOR and KRDO.[1] Throughout his childhood, Peter went to rodeos with his stepfather Andy Kane (who took part in roping events). As a teenager, Peter began to compete as a rodeo rider in both bareback and saddle bronc events.[2][3]

Korean War and early career edit

La Farge joined the United States Navy in 1950 and served in the aircraft carrier USS Boxer throughout the Korean War.[3] He also joined the Central Intelligence Division (CID) as an undercover agent involved in efforts to suppress narcotics smuggling.[2][3] While in the Navy, he learned to box and took part in a few dozen prize fights, in the course of which his nose was broken twice.[citation needed] His ship was once hit by a plane that missed its landing, and he suffered burns in the ensuing fire.[3] He was discharged in 1953 and awarded the China Service Medal, a U.N. Service Medal and Ribbon, and a Korean Service Medal and Ribbon (5 stars).[1]

After the war, La Farge competed again as a rodeo cowboy, getting injured often and almost losing a leg in one accident with a Brahma bull.[3] Following his recuperation, he studied acting at the Goodman Theater drama school in Chicago and took supporting roles in local plays, remaining in the city for two years.[2][3] During this period, he married a fellow actor, Suzanne Becker.[2]

New York years and later career edit

La Farge relocated to New York City, where he became interested in music. As a young musician, he worked with Big Bill Broonzy, Josh White, and Cisco Houston; Houston became La Farge's mentor in songwriting and in life.[3] As a singer-songwriter, Peter La Farge became well known as a folk music singer in Greenwich Village.[2][3][4] He was contracted briefly with Columbia Records.[4][2]

At a September 1962 Carnegie Hall "hootenanny" hosted by Seeger to introduce new talent, Dylan performed a song that he never recorded, La Farge's "As Long as the Grass Shall Grow".[5]

His performances in Greenwich Village gained him a recording contract with Moses Asch, founder of Folkways Records.[4] La Farge's five Folkways albums (1962–1965) were dedicated to Native American themes, as well as blues, cowboy songs, and love songs.[4] "The Ballad of Ira Hayes," his most famous song, is the story of Ira Hayes, a Pima Indian who became a hero as one of six United States Marines who raised the U.S. flag on Iwo Jima.[2] Hayes suffered from prejudice and struggled with alcoholism on return to civilian life.[2] The song was covered by Johnny Cash on his 1964 album Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian, reaching Number 2 on the Billboard country music chart.[2] Cash credited La Farge with inspiring the entire album, which included four La Farge songs in addition to "The Ballad of Ira Hayes."[6]

By 1965, La Farge was also becoming known as an artist and painter. He lived with the Danish singer Inger Nielsen, and the pair had a daughter, Karen.[2] They did not marry in part because La Farge was still married to Suzanne, who was then in a mental institution in Michigan.[1][2]

La Farge was signed to MGM Records, where he planned a new album. However, in October 1965, Peter La Farge was found dead in his New York City apartment by Inger Nielsen. He was said to have died from a stroke, or more probably an overdose of Thorazine, an antipsychotic drug that Johnny Cash had allegedly introduced to him as a sleep aid.[1][2][7] He was buried in Fountain, Colorado.

In 2010, a tribute album, Rare Breed, was recorded.[2]

Selected discography edit

  • 1962: Ira Hayes and Other Ballads
  • 1962: Iron Mountain and Other Songs
  • 1963: As Long as the Grass Shall Grow: Peter La Farge Sings of the Indians
  • 1963: Peter La Farge Sings of the Cowboys: Cowboy, Ranch and Rodeo Songs, and Cattle Calls
  • 1964: Peter La Farge Sings Women Blues: Peter La Farge Sings Love Songs
  • 1965: Peter LaFarge on the Warpath
  • 2010: Rare Breed: The Songs of Peter La Farge

References edit

  1. ^ a b c d e f Schulman, Sandra Hale. Don't Tell Me How I Looked Falling: The Ballad of Peter La Farge. Slink Productions, 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Harris, Craig. Heartbeat, Warble, and the Electric Powwow: American Indian Music. University of Oklahoma Press, 2016.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l D'Ambrosio, Antonino. A Heartbeat and a Guitar: Johnny Cash and the Making of Bitter Tears, pp. xiv, 13-19, 58-59, 81-82
  4. ^ a b c d Bogdanov, Vladimir, Chris Woodstra, and Stephen Thomas Erlewine, eds. All Music Guide: The Definitive Guide to Popular Music, p. 784.
  5. ^ Sullivan, James (2019). Which Side Are You On?: 20th Century American History in 100 Protest Songs. Oxford University Press. p. 154. ISBN 9780190660307.
  6. ^ Keeling, Kara, and Josh Kun, eds. Sound Clash: Listening to American Studies, p. 156.
  7. ^ Some sources state that the singer Liam Clancy, who lived next door to La Farge, claimed La Farge had committed suicide by slitting his wrists in the shower stall of his apartment. Clancy's account conflicts with the police report, contemporary coverage by the New York City newspapers, and subsequent statements by close family members. See Harris 2016 and Sounes 2001.

Sources edit

  • Cash, Johnny. Cash: The Autobiography of Johnny Cash. Harper, 2000. ISBN 978-0-00-274080-7
  • Schulman, Sandra Hale. The Ballad of Peter LaFarge, a 2010 documentary. UPC 8-85444-39205-4
  • Sounes, Howard. Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan. Doubleday, 2001. ISBN 0-552-99929-6

External links edit