On this day in 1965, singer-songwriter Bob Dylan rocks the world of folk music when he performs at the Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island and abandons his acoustic guitar for an electric one. By going electric, Dylan eventually moved rock and folk music closer together. He also infused rock and roll, known then for its mostly lightweight lyrics, with a more intellectual, poetic sensibility.
Dylan was born Robert Allen Zimmerman on May 24, 1941, in Duluth, Minnesota. Growing up, Dylan, who taught himself to play guitar, formed his own bands and was influenced by such musicians as Elvis Presley and Little Richard. As a student at the University of Minnesota, he performed folk and country music at cafes and began calling himself Bob Dylan after the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas (1914-1953). In 1960, Dylan dropped out of school and moved to New York City, where he met his idol, folk musician Woody Guthrie (1912-1967), and became involved in the Greenwich Village coffeehouse folk scene and its social protest music. His first album, featuring his distinct, gravelly-voiced vocals, was released in 1962. Dylan’s next album, the following year, included “Blowin’ in the Wind” (which became a major hit for the folk group Peter, Paul & Mary) and “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” two of the best-known folk songs of the era. With his third album, in 1964, “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” Dylan established himself as the pre-eminent folk singer-songwriter of his generation.
In 1965, Dylan released “Bringing It All Back Home,” a half-acoustic, half-electric recording in which he was backed by a nine-piece band, a departure from his previous pared-down performances. That summer, he made his historic live performance with an electric guitar at the folk festival in Newport, where he played such songs as “Maggie’s Farm” and “Mr. Tambourine Man.” Some fans reportedly booed Dylan at the time, although it’s long been a topic of debate as to whether the crowd was unhappy with Dylan or the poor sound system. Regardless, after Newport, Dylan’s popularity continued to soar as his musical style continued to evolve and he became known for his innovative, poetic and sometimes cryptic lyrics.
Dylan, who has a reputation for being reclusive and mysterious, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988. Today, he is a music icon whose successful career has endured for over 40 years.