The Weavers, one of the most significant popular-music groups of the postwar era, saw their career nearly destroyed during the Red Scare of the early 1950s. Even with anti-communist fervor in decline by the early 1960s, the Weavers’ leftist politics were used against them as late as January 2, 1962, when the group’s appearance on The Jack Paar Show was cancelled over their refusal to sign an oath of political loyalty.
The importance of the Weavers to the folk revival of the late 1950s cannot be overstated. Without the group that Pete Seeger founded with Lee Hays in Greenwich Village in 1948, there would likely be no Bob Dylan, not to mention no Kingston Trio or Peter, Paul and Mary. The Weavers helped spark a tremendous resurgence in interest in American folk traditions and folk songs when they burst onto the popular scene with “Goodnight Irene,” a #1 record for 13 weeks in the summer and fall of 1950. The Weavers sold millions of copies of innocent, beautiful and utterly apolitical records like “Midnight Special” and “On Top of Old Smoky” that year.
And then it came to light that members of the group had openly embraced the pacifism, internationalism and pro-labor sympathies of the Communist Party during the 1930s. When word of their political past spread, the backlash was swift. The Weavers’ planned television show was canceled, the group was placed under FBI surveillance and Seeger and Hays were called to testify before Joseph McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee. The Weavers lost their recording contract with Decca in 1951, and by 1953, unable to book most concert venues and banned from appearing on television and radio, they disbanded.
The Weavers enjoyed a significant comeback in the late 1950s, but the group never shook its right-wing antagonists. On the afternoon of January 2, 1962, in advance of a scheduled appearance on The Jack Paar Show, the Weavers were told by NBC officials that their appearance would be canceled if they would not sign a statement disavowing the Communist party. Every member of the Weavers refused to sign.