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The Kingston Trio, Unique and Influential Folk Group

Updated on October 23, 2017

The Kingston Trio -- Their unique start and influence

The Kingston Trio is without a doubt one of the best folk music groups ever, second only to Peter Paul and Maryif that. The Kingston Trio has a unique and wonderful great folk music sound.

Two of The Kingston Trio's original members met in high school in Hawaii, where they had been living before attending college in California. They got together in college around a common love of Island and Calypso music, and, when, after college they decided to form a trio. They named themselves "The Kingston Trio" after Kingston Jamaica, as they were planning to be primarily an island/calypso singing group.

Nick,, Bob, Dave: The original Kingston Trio
Nick,, Bob, Dave: The original Kingston Trio | Source

Their first big break came when comedian Phyllis Diller canceled her engagement at San Francisco's "Purple Onion" nightclub and their manager persuaded the owner to give them a chance. They were so well liked that that the week stretched into six months and resulted in a tour of clubs in New York, Boston, Chicago, and then back to San Francisco and it's showplace club, the "Hungry i " in June of 1958, where a producer from Capital records, having been contacted by their agent, heard them and was so impressed he signed them to a 7 year contract.

The Kingston Trio's first album
The Kingston Trio's first album

In February of 1958, they recorded their first album, "The Kingston Trio," which consisted primarily of calypso-flavored tunes with a few traditional travel tunes like "Fast Freight," and "Bay of Mexico." But, for some reason, they decided to include the American folk song "Tom Dooley," about the 1868 hanging of the named confederate veteran for brutally stabbing his fiancé, Laura Foster. To Everyone's surprise and with a little help from the extensive airplay of one enthusiastic DJ, "Tom Dooley" by The Kingston Trio rose rapidly toward the #1 spot, so when their agent handed them a box of money and told them they were folk singers they readily agreed. The rest is folk music history. In fact, "Tom Dooley" became #1 by late November of 1958 and folk music historians agree that it was the popularity of this one song which started the folk music revival two years later. (See my hub on American Folk Music). It reached gold record status in January of 1959 and won Grammy that year for Best Country & Western Performance (There was no folk category as yet.) Listen to this, The Kingston Trio's first #1 hit for yourself below and you'll see why it was so popular. Their first album (Pictured above) was recorded in February of 1958 and released that June. That month also marked the beginning of their stint at San Francisco's "The Hungry i" and shortly afterward their first live album was recorded from there. It was released the following January.(also pictured above). On October 24, 1960, It was awarded an RIAA gold album.

The influence of The Kingston Trio:

The Kingston Trio did more than perhaps any other group to bring the rich tradition of folk music into the mainstream of American popular music for the first time. Find out how. Check out their hits and albums below and read about what happened next.

Here's the Kingston Trio with their first big hit, Tom Dooley: - Take a listen and I'm sure you'll see why it went to #1!

Largely because of this song, in 1958, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences included "folk" as a category.

The most popular Kingston Trio songs according to Wikipedia

1)Tom Dooley----------------------------------#1 in 1958
2)The Tijuana Jail-----------------------------#12 in 1959
3) M.T.A.----------------------------------------#15 in 1959
4) A Worried Man-------------------------------#20 in 1959
5) El Matador-----------------------------------#32 in 1960
6) Bad Man Blunder------------------------------ #37 in 1960
7) Where Have All the Flowers Gone?-------#21 in 1962
8) Greenback Dollar----------------------------#21 in 1963
9) The Reverend Mr. Black--------------------#8 in 1963
10) Desert Pete---------------------------------#33 in 1963
All their songs are great but these are the 10 main chart toppers

Take a listen to some of these other most popular Kingston Trio songs - You'll see why they were so popular.

I'm sure you'll agree, they really sound great! The first video (below) is from their appearance on "The Jack Benny Program" on January 29, 1965, where they actually acted out the situation depicted in the lyrics of the song "Tijuana Jail."

1. The Kingston Trio on the Jack Benny program:

The Kingston Trio's 2nd and 3rd studio albums

Also in 1959, the trio recorded their second and third studio albums. Collector's Choice has made these two great albums available on one CD. I have this one and play it often. It offers a great variety of styles. eg. the slow and thoughtful "On the Sine" is followed by the fast and funny "I bawled." I love to hear those back to back.

2. "Greenback Dollar" from their 2nd album below:

What happened next to the Kingston Trio? - (info. gleaned from Wikipedia)

  1. in November and December 1959,for 5 weeks in a row, 4 Kingston Trio albums reached the top ten on Billboard's Top LPs chart.
  2. At the 1960 Grammys, folk categories were added and The Kingston Trio won for "Best Ethnic or Traditional Folk Recording" for their second album "At Large."
  3. in 1950, they recorded three albums: Sold Out", "String Along" and their fabulous Christmas album, "Last Month of the Year"
  4. By 1961, They had sold more than 8 million records.

The fabulous Kingston Trio Christmas Album

If you're tired of the same old carols, or just want something different, that's a great one to have. There are a few familiar tunes, but the Trio definitely found some interesting gems including the rousing "Last Month of the Year". Their harmony is great as always. The Last Month of the Year is considered the Kingston Trio's most musically ambitious and also one of the their least known. It was recorded in 1960. Nick Reynolds stated in an interview: "It wasn't your standard Christmas album. That's why we called it The Last Month of the Year. It was a pretty complicated little album, some very intricate stuff... If this interests you, click the link below to check out my hub on "Unique Christmas Music," where I list this album and give more detail, including two YouTube videos from the album, so you can hear their unique treatment of these special holiday themes before deciding to purchase. But be sure to come back here. Thanks.

A song from their fourth album, "Sold Out."

The Kingston Trio from 1961-63

  1. by early 1961 a rift developed and deepened between Shane and Reynolds on one side and Guard on the other.
  2. In April 1961,Dave Guard resigned, pledging to fulfil commitments through November.
  3. He was replaced by John Stewart of the Cumberland Three, who stayed until 1967.
  4. In 1961, they recorded "Make Way," "Going Places and "Close-up."
  5. In 1962, they made their second live recording, "College Concert."
  6. Also in 1962, they made their only album with orchestra and chorus."Something Special" (See below)
  7. Also in 1962 they recorded "New Frontier."
  8. Between 1961 and 1963 Six of their next seven albums reached Billboard's Top Ten.

The Kingston Trio in 1963:

  1. By 1963, they had 10 singles charted, but only "Rev. Mr. Black" got into the Top 10.
  2. They recorded 3 studio albums:" #16", "Sunny Side" and "Time to Think."

Your best bet: 9 Classic albums on 4 CDs fro less than one double CD:

Yes, the album pictured to the right and which I listed below is really a good deal. I have all these songs, although on different albums, and believe me, they sound great and are worth listening to, and this is a really great deal--You get 9 of their best albums, most of which i have described or sampled above, for less than the cost of one double album CD.,

Your best bet:

The Kingston Trio 1964-66:

  • 1964 saw the growth of pop-folk and folk-rock and the increasing popularity of other commercial folk groups like Peter, Paul and Mary with a decidedly more political bent. Thus, The Kingston Trio's popularity and dominance in record sales began to wane.

  • Their contract with Capital ran out and due to the British invasion (by the Beatles and others) it was not renewed. They signed with Deca, but lacking Capital's production expertise, their last 4 albums lacked the former brilliance and did not do well.

  • By 1966, Stewart wanted to strike out on his own and Reynolds had grown weary of touring so they decided to play as many concerts as possible for year and quit. Their last engagement was for two weeks in June at the Hungry i. (See the double CD listed below)

The Kingston Trio on Billboard's album charts - All rankings are from "American Album Chart Records 1955 - 2001"

  • Most #1 Albums: 5 for a #10 ranking
  • Most Weeks Charting A #1 Album: 46 for a #5 ranking
  • Most Weeks Charting An Album: 1262 for a #10 ranking
  • Most Top Ten Albums: 14 for a #9 ranking
  • Most Consecutive #1 Albums: 4, tied for a #4 ranking
  • Most Consecutive Top 40 Albums: 17, tied for a #6 ranking
  • Most Total Weeks Albums Charted In One Year: 348 in 1961 for a #3 ranking; 284 in 1960 for a #6 ranking
  • Most Weeks Charting An Album By Decade, 1960-69: 1089 for a #4 ranking
  • Most Weeks With A #1 Album In A Calendar Year: 22 in 1960, tied for a #4 ranking; 18 in 1959, tied for a #7 ranking
  • Most Consecutive Weeks At #1 Chart Position: 15, tied for a #8 ranking

The re-organized Kingston Trio:

in 1969, Bob Shane wanted to return to a group environment and obtained permission from his partners to use the mutually-owned group name for another band. He organized two troupes under the name of "The New Kingston Trio"

The Kingston Trio with orchestra and chorus? - Plus another live performance at the Hungry I

That's really something special--something really unique: Can you believe it?--The Kingston Trio with orchestra and chorus.. I have this album and it really does work. You have to hear it to believe an appreciate it (how the orchestra and chorus perfectly compliment the Kingston Trio's unique folk sound. I highly recommend the double CD listed below is well worth the price. You get the only Kingston trio album done with orchestra and chorus backgrounds which,,as I already stated make for a uniquely beautiful combination - plus their second unique live performance at the Hungry I.

The Kingston: Vocal Group Hall of Fame inductees

In 2000, The Kingston Trio was inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame.

Reader Feedback

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    • TerriCarr profile image


      4 years ago

      I really like this kind of music. Really sweet melodies.

    • agoofyidea profile image


      7 years ago

      I love the Kingston Trio. MTA may be by favorite of their songs, but I like so many of them. We used to play them in my family's motorhome as we vacationed around the country. Great memories. Blessed.

    • davenjilli lm profile image

      davenjilli lm 

      7 years ago

      Love the kingston trio. They were a staple in my house growing up. Peter, Paul an Mary and Herb Albert, were others that were very popular *blessed*

    • Morticella LM profile image

      Morticella LM 

      8 years ago

      This lens is now listed in Squidojo I've inserted several of your lens but I've not finished yet please report any problem and Great lens Food for thought Ciao

    • jlshernandez profile image


      8 years ago

      When I think of the KIngston Trio, "Tom Dooley" immediately starts playing in my head. Thanks for bringing this piece of nostalgia back through your lens.

    • Wednesday-Elf profile image


      8 years ago from Savannah, Georgia

      Jim, thanks for including me in your featured lens list of folk music groups and the link in your intro. Very nice of you. I've been a fan of the Kingston Trio since college days (some 50 years ago) and meeting them in person was very special. Lensrolled to my Three Jolly Coachmen lens about "The Trio".

    • Twmarsh profile image


      8 years ago

      My parents are big Kingston Trio fans, and I became familiar with them at a young age. A truly influential group indeed!

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 

      9 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      I can't sing a lick but at least a couple of times a year, I get asked to sing MTA and Reverend Mr. Black. I guess I am the one around who still remembers the words. Great lens about one of my most favorite groups. Lensrolled to The Brothers Four.

    • BarbRad profile image

      Barbara Radisavljevic 

      10 years ago from Templeton, CA

      A friend introduced me to the Kingston Trio when I was in college and I became a fan immediately. I still have all the old albums I bought way back in the 60s, though I have updated to at least one CD. I never knew how they got their name until I read your lens.

    • evelynsaenz1 profile image

      Evelyn Saenz 

      10 years ago from Royalton

      I discovered The Kingston Trio when I was researching for my Pete Seeger Lens. I fell in love with their music instantly as I do with all folk music.

      You have done a wonderful job highlighting their careers.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Great Lens!!! 5*****


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