The New Christy Minstrels Founder Was 90

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Randy Sparks, the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter and founder of the folk music group the New Christy Minstrels, died Feb. 11 at an assisted-living facility in San Diego. He was 90. 

His son, Kevin, confirmed the news to the New York Times, adding that Sparks was living on his 168-acre ranch in Jenny Lind, Calif., northeast of San Francisco, until a few days before his death.

Sparks was an American musician, songwriter and founder of the folk group the New Christy Minstrels — gaining recognition for his work in the folk music revival of the 1960s. 

He formed the group in 1961, which became known for its vocal harmonies and folk-pop sound. Under Sparks’ leadership, the New Christy Minstrels achieved commercial success with hits like “Green, Green,” which Sparks wrote with future “Eve of Destruction” singer Barry McGuire, “Today” and “Denver.” 

The group also won a Grammy Award in 1963 for best performance by a chorus for their debut album “Presenting the New Christy Minstrels,” which stayed on the Billboard albums chart for two years. Sparks was also influential in helping boost the careers of Steve Martin, John Denver and Kenny Rogers, with Rogers playing double bass for the group in 1966. 

Besides his work with the New Christy Minstrels, Sparks also wrote for other artists and was involved in various musical projects throughout his career. He was a significant figure in the music industry, particularly the folk music scene.

In the mid-1960s, Sparks sold his interest in the New Christy Minstrels for $2.5 million and moved to rural Northern California. There, he began a 30-year collaboration with Burl Ives and opened a nightclub in Los Angeles called Ledbetter’s.

Sparks was born on July 29, 1933, in Leavenworth, Kan. His career began in the 1950s as a solo folk singer in California. He was part of the burgeoning folk music scene in places like Los Angeles, where he performed in coffeehouses and clubs. 

Sparks’ talent as a songwriter and musician quickly gained attention, and he began to establish connections within the music industry before eventually founding the New Christy Minstrels. 

Sparks is survived by his sons Kevin and Cameron, daughters Melinda and Amanda, sister Naomi Allen, and four grandchildren.

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