Keeping the music of Phil Ochs alive

The Harrises found a whole new world of music in folk, which Sonny calls "the most community-oriented form of music." Folk music actually stems from community news stories that were told through song, she said.

Her brother, incidentally, once harbored aspirations to be a journalist. When the student paper at Ohio State University rejected some of his stories, deeming them too radical, he started his own underground paper, The World. Eventually, he took on a new kind of writing where he could indulge his strong political views: songwriting.

He dropped out of Ohio State and moved to New York City, where he immersed himself in the Greenwich Village folk music scene. He also organized and took part in a number of protests and demonstrations; when the Vietnam War ended, he staged a "War is Over" rally in Central Park. Pete Seeger was among the performers, and Ochs and Joan Baez sang a duet of "There but for the Fortune."

Ochs made fans with his principles as well as his music. Magpie, the husband-and-wife team of Greg Artzner and Terry Leonino, are regular performers at Phil Ochs night who are "worshippers of his music and what he stood for," Sonny said.

Similarly, the Harrises were soon intimately familiar with Ochs' work. They not only recorded Ochs' "In the Heat of the Summer," they made it the title track of their first CD.

Several other artists have recorded Ochs' songs over the years, too, including John Denver, Gordon Lightfoot and Judy Collins. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland had a tribute to Ochs in 2000, and earlier this year, Sonny accepted The Elaine Weissman Lifetime Achievement Award in the Legacy Artist category given by the International Folk Alliance of Music and Dance on Phil's behalf.

The award, she said, makes this year's song night a little extra special.

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