Some of the most prominent folk singers of the twentieth century, including Woody Guthrie, 'Sis Cunningham, Pete Seeger, Lee Hays, Burl Ives, etc., were also political activists with various associations with the American Communist Party. As a consequence, the FBI, along with other governmental and right-wing organizations, were monitoring them, keeping meticulous files running many thousands of pages, and making (and carrying out) plans to purge them from the cultural realm.

In The Folk Singers and the Bureau, Aaron J. Leonard draws on an unprecedented array of declassified documents and never before released files to shed light on the interplay between left-wing folk artists and their relationship with the American Communist Party, and how it put them in the US government's repressive cross hairs.

At a time of increasing state surveillance and repression, The Folk Singers and the Bureau shows how the FBI and other governmental agencies have attempted to shape and repress American culture.


"Aaron Leonard’s copious and impeccable research uncovers data that even those involved at the time — from musicians to political activists —may not have known about. Based on these findings, Leonard explains how and why American icons like Woody Guthrie became targets of America's secret police: the FBI. More than that, Leonard's critical analysis helps us understand the impact on music, social movements, indeed society as a whole, of both the folk singers and the Bureau. This is a must-read for music lovers and defenders of civil liberties alike." - Mat Callahan, author of The Trouble With Music

The Folk Singers and the Bureau: The FBI, the Folk Artists and the Suppression..

  • Repeater Books 2020

    New paperback

    323 pages