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Ear to the Ground, a posthumous release of Malvina Reynolds recordings on the Folkways label, 2000.

Malvina Reynolds (August 23, 1900 – March 17, 1978) was an American folk/blues singer-songwriter and political activist, probably best known for writing the song "Little Boxes".[1]


Early life

Malvina Milder was born in San Francisco to David and Abagail Milder, Jewish and socialist immigrants, who opposed World War I.

She married William Reynolds, a carpenter and labor organizer, in 1934; they had one child, Nancy Reynolds (a songwriter and performer in her own right), in 1935. She had earned her Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts in English from the University of California, Berkeley, and later went on to earn her doctorate there, finishing her dissertation in 1938.

Music career

Though she played violin in a dance band in her twenties, she began her songwriting career late in life. She was in her late 40s when she met Earl Robinson, Pete Seeger and other folk singers and songwriters. She returned to school at UC Berkeley, where she studied music theory. She went on to write several popular songs, including "Little Boxes", "What Have They Done to the Rain", recorded by The Searchers and Joan Baez (about nuclear fallout), "It Isn't Nice" (a civil rights anthem), "Turn Around" (about children growing up, later sung by Harry Belafonte), and "There's a Bottom Below" (about depression). Reynolds was also a noted composer of children's songs, including "Magic Penny" and "Morningtown Ride", a top 5 UK single (December 66) recorded by The Seekers.

Four collections of her music are available on compact disc. The Smithsonian Folkways label released Another County Heard From (Folkways 02524) and Ear to the Ground (Smithsonian Folkways 40124), and the Omni Recording Corporation in Australia issued Malvina Reynolds (Omni 112) and "Malvina Reynolds Sings the Truth" (Omni 114).

A film biography, Love It Like a Fool, was made a few years before she died in 1978. Reynolds' most famous song, "Little Boxes" (made famous by Pete Seeger), has enjoyed renewed popularity by being featured in Showtime's TV series Weeds. "Little Boxes" was inspired visually by the houses of Daly City, California. Nancy Reynolds, daughter of Malvina Reynolds, explained:

"My mother and father were driving South from San Francisco through Daly City when my mom got the idea for the song. She asked my dad to take the wheel, and she wrote it on the way to the gathering in La Honda where she was going to sing for the Friends Committee on Legislation. When Time Magazine (I think, maybe Newsweek) wanted a photo of her pointing to the very place, she couldn't find those houses because so many more had been built around them that the hillsides were totally covered."[2]

In her later years, Malvina Reynolds contributed both songs and material to PBS's Sesame Street, on which she made occasional appearances as a character called "Kate".


  1. ^ Biography at Western Kentucky University by Charles H. Smith and Nancy Schimmel - Accessed Nov 2006
  2. ^ "Malvina Reynolds", Weeds: Artist Spotlight (website), 2007. Accessed 2007-10-16

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Malvina Reynolds (née Milder) (August 23, 1900March 17, 1978) was an American folk/blues singer-songwriter and political activist.


  • Train whistle blowin',
    Makes a sleepy noise;
    Underneath their blankets
    Go all the girls and boys.
    Rockin', rollin', ridin',
    Out along the bay,
    All bound for Morningtown,
    Many miles away.
  • And there's doctors and lawyers,
    And business executives,
    And they're all made out of ticky tacky
    And they all look just the same.
  • Love is something if you give it away,
    Give it away, give it away.
    Love is something if you give it away,
    You end up having more.
    It's just like a magic penny,
    Hold it tight and you won't have any.
    Lend it, spend it, and you'll have so many
    They'll roll all over the floor.
    • Song Magic Penny
  • If you are a piano,
    You will laugh on ev'ry string,
    And if you are a girl or boy,
    You'll sing.
    • Song There's Music In The Air
  • They don't know my head's full of me
    And that I have my own special thing,
    And there's no hole in my head.
    Too bad.
    • Song No Hole In My Head
  • Little man stood at the Mayor's door,
    No one had ever seen him before,
    Dressed in clothes of a gayer mood
    Than ever are seen in Hollywood.
    • Song The Pied Piper
  • There was a little boat sailed down the river,
    Hull was a cup and sail was a feather,
    Cum peedle ump pump pay.

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