Born in Chicago, Illinois in 1937, Tom has been writing, performing and recording music for over forty years. In 2009, he received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
In 1948, when Tom was 12, the Paxton family moved to Bristow, Oklahoma, which Paxton considers to be his hometown. Tom was about fifteen when he received his first stringed instrument, a ukulele. He also received a guitar from his aunt when he was sixteen, and he soon began to immerse himself in the music of Burl Ives and Harry Belafonte.
In 1955, Tom enrolled at the University of Oklahoma, where he studied in drama. It was here that he first found other enthusiasts of folk music, and discovered the music of Woody Guthrie and The Weavers.
During college, Tom was in a group known as the Travellers. The group sang in off-campus coffeehouse.
Upon graduating from the University of Oklahoma in 1959 with a BFA, Paxton acted in summer stock theatre and briefly tried graduate school before joining the Army. While attending the Clerk Typist School in Fort Dix, New Jersey, he began writing songs on his typewriter and spent almost every weekend visiting Greenwich Village in New York City during the emerging early 1960s folk revival.
Shortly after being discharged from the Army, Paxton auditioned for the Chad Mitchell Trio in 1960. He initially received the part, but his voice did not blend well enough with those of the group members. However, after singing his song "The Marvelous Toy," he became the first writer signed to Milt's music publishing company, Cherry Lane Music Publishing.
Tom soon became a steady performer at The Gaslight Cafe in Greenwich Village. In 1962, he recorded a live album at the Gaslight entitled, I'm the Man That Built the Bridges. During his stay in Greenwich Village, Tom published some of his songs in the folk magazines Broadside and Sing Out!, and performed alongside Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Eric Andersen, Dave Van Ronk, and Mississippi John Hurt.
As the folk revival hit its peak, Tom began getting more work outside of New York City, including benefit concerts and college campus visits. In 1964, Tom took part in the Freedom Summer and visited the Deep South, with other folk musicians, to perform at voter registration drives and civil rights rallies. His civil rights song "Beau John" was written after attending a Freedom Song Workshop in Atlanta, Georgia, and the song "Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney" was written about the unjust and brutal murders of three civil rights activists.
|Tom with Liam Clancy|
In February 2002, Tom Paxton was honored with the ASCAP Lifetime Achievement Award in Folk Music. A few days later, he received three Wammies (Washington, DC, Area Music Awards); as Best Male Vocalist in the "traditional folk" and "children's music" categories, and for Best Traditional Folk Recording of the Year.
On January 22, 2007, Paxton was honored with an official Parliamentary tribute at the House of Commons of the United Kingdom at the start of his 2007 United Kingdom tour.
On May 3, 2008, Paxton was honored with a special lifetime tribute from the World Folk Music Association. In addition. Tom has been nominated four times for Grammy Awards in his career, all since 2002.
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