When Len Chandler arrived in New York City in the 1950s, he had no intention of getting involved with the folk music scene. Born in Akron, Ohio in 1935, he showed an interest in music at an early age. "My father was in the army," Chandler recalled, "and my mother bought me a little plastic flute with eight holes in it, and I played songs on it until I ran out of range." At eight, he began playing piano and at 12, he started studying classical music. He learned to play the oboe so he could join the high school band, and during his senior year joined the Akron Symphony.
Chandler showed no interest in folk music until a college professor introduced him to Bukka White, Furry Lewis, and Leadbelly. He began performing folk music that had been converted into classical pieces with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, and during "the Winter's Past" section he sang "Black Is the Color of My True Love's Hair" and "Wayfaring Stranger." Chandler then enrolled in an M.A. program at Columbia while working as a counselor at St. Barnabas House (a home for neglected children). The counselors would take the children to hear folk singing in Washington Square in Greenwich Village. "I started borrowing other people's guitars ... and learning more and more chords and folk songs ...," Chandler recollected. Soon he found himself making twenty-five dollars a week playing at the Gaslight.
By the early 1960s Chandler felt himself drawn to the Civil Rights Movement. In 1962 he wrote his first topical song, and deepened his commitment to the movement after attending a freedom singers conference in Atlanta in 1964. "I started submitting a lot of songs to Broadside," Chandler said, "because what sometimes got me off the most were topical songs. I really liked the impact that would be made on people when they would hear something that you had just written right out of the news about something that happened today." He sang at demonstrations and rallies, and won a reputation as a protest songwriter.
During his travels in the South, Chandler was invited to write songs for KRLA in Los Angeles. After penning topical material related to the Original Black Panther Party for the station, he began writing three topical songs a day for the radio program, Credibility Gap. In the early 1970s he formed the Alternative Chorus-Songwriters Showcase to promote new talent, featuring programs at the Ash Grove and later, at Lincoln Center West. "As a result of the Showcase," wrote Kristin Baggelaar and Donald Milton in Folk Music: More Than a Song, "over three hundred writers have been signed to recording and publishing contracts, and several of the artists have had their records make it to the Top 40 chart." Chandler began recording as a solo artist in 1967 with To Be a Man on Columbia, and followed with The Lovin' People the same year. His work can also be found on The Best of Broadside. ~ Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.