Randy Sparks, Founder of the New Christy Minstrels, Dies at 90

Randy Sparks, a creative impresario whose musical ensemble, the New Christy Minstrels, helped to jump-start the folk revival of the early 1960s and launched the careers of performers like John Denver, Steve Martin and Kenny Rogers, died on Sunday at an assisted-living facility in San Diego. He was 90.

His son Kevin confirmed the death. Mr. Sparks had been living on his 168-acre ranch in Jenny Lind, Calif., northeast of San Francisco, until a few days before his death.

Mr. Sparks in Los Angeles in 2006. He was well known as a singer, songwriter and actor in Southern California when he formed the New Christy Minstrels.Credit…Sherry Rayn Barnett/ Michael Ochs Archives, via Getty Images

Before Beatlemania and the British invasion revolutionized American popular music, folk music dominated the airwaves — and perhaps no group was more ubiquitous than the New Christy Minstrels. They were a nearly constant presence on television and sold an estimated two million albums in their first three years.

Mr. Sparks was already well known as a singer, songwriter and actor in Southern California when he drew together nine other musicians in 1961 to form the group, which took its name from a popular stage show in the 1840s led by Edwin P. Christy. Mr. Sparks was quick to note that his group otherwise shared nothing with its namesake, a white group that had promoted the music of Stephen Foster in blackface.

His group was a hit from the start; its debut album, “Presenting the New Christy Minstrels” (1962), won the Grammy Award for best performance by a chorus and stayed on the Billboard chart for two years.

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