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“I’m tickled,” says legendary folk singer Tom Paxton of his first Grammy nomination. “Waiting ’til I was 65 was cutting it a little close!”
Paxton, a key figure in the folk revival of the ’60s and one of a few such performers still making frequent appearances today, got the nod from the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences for his children’s album Your Shoes, My Shoes. The accolade came as a surprise, says Paxton, who lives in Alexandria. “The night before the nominations came out, I explained to my wife, very logically, I thought, why it was not likely. Most tellingly, I said, the [eligible] albums are listed alphabetically, and they’ll probably have sorted out their nominations by the time they get to Your Shoes.” Not that he doesn’t think it’s a worthy effort: Paxton calls Your Shoes, My Shoes “far and away the best children’s album I’ve ever done.”
But upon reflection, he grows uncomfortable at the notion of labeling genres. “When I started out, children’s songs were folk songs. One of the albums that influenced meand I’m sure it was a big influence on a lot of peoplewas The Weavers at Carnegie Hall. They sang ‘Hush little baby, don’t say a word’ on its own merits. They didn’t say, ‘We’re gonna take a break and sing a kids’ song now.’
“It bothers me that people are classified as children’s entertainers. I used to be called a ‘protest singer,’ for God’s sake. I still get called that, but I do all kinds of songs: children’s songs, love songs.”
If you didn’t sing a Paxton song in your OshKosh days (“Goin’ to the Zoo,” “The Marvelous Toy,” “My Dog’s Bigger Than Your Dog”), you’ve probably heard one if you’ve ever been within yodeling distance of a folk club: “Ramblin’ Boy” and “The Last Thing on My Mind” are two of his best-known compositions. He’s also written social commentary, such as “One Million Lawyers” and “Whose Garden Was This.”
He’s not the only local resident in his category this year: Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer, who share the Your Shoes nomination as its producers, are also nominated for Best Musical Album for Children, for their own Pocket Full of Stardust, and got a third nod in the Traditional Folk category, for Postcards. “I for one would be tickled pink to see them win,” says Paxton. “I don’t think anyone has done as much for children’s music.”
Whatever the outcome, Paxton looks forward to this Sunday’s ceremony. “We’re going! Oh, boy, yeah. I’m going to get to meet a lot of people who’ve recorded my songs.” Including, he hopes, a singer who had a 1968 hit with “The Last Thing on My Mind,” but with whom he’s never crossed paths: Dolly Parton. Pamela Murray Winters