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Iconic 60’s folk group included Mike Kobluk, a Jewish vocalist from Canada

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(From L-R) Chad Mitchell and Canada’s Mike Kobluk were joined in 1960 by Joe Frazier, just as the Chad Mitchell Trio started to expand their reach in the music scene. (Photo: wolfgangs.com)

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In 1958, William Chadbourne Mitchell, Mike Kobluk and Mike Pugh founded The Chad Mitchell Trio.  

I was surprised to learn from my sister Marcia Bell that the group’s longest-serving member, Mike Kobluk, is Jewish. 

Glee club members while students at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, the group’s repertoire criticized the Cold War and Vietnam War and championed the Civil Rights Movement. They also sang many of John Denver’s early songs. 

Born in Trail, British Columbia, Mike Kobluk majored in Math and English at Gonzaga. As a child he sang for fun, “(but) singing for a career… never entered (his) mind.”  Kobluk said that the purpose of the group was to entertain, while presenting many viewpoints. He spent 10 years with the trio before leaving in 1968.

In the summer of 1959, a friend of Mitchell’s, Catholic priest Reinard Beaver, “hatched the plan that started us on a professional career,” so they headed to New York, recalled Kobluk. 

By May 1960, they were signed to Harry Belafonte’s management company, and performed with Belafonte, Arthur Godfrey and Pat Boone.   

In fall 1960, with two albums recorded The Chad Mitchell Trio and In Concert – Everybody’s Listening, Pugh left the group to return to university. Mitchell and Kobluk auditioned more than 150 singers including Tom Paxton. Joe Frazier got the gig, and, according to The Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music, they made nine albums. 

The trio initially recorded for the Colpix label. Their sound really blossomed when they started to record for Kapp Records, with songs like Lizzie Borden (the accused axe murderer), Mighty Day (remembering the Galveston, Texas hurricane of 1900) and the Prohibition era tune, Rum By Gum. Subsequent Kapp albums included The Ides of Texas (about financier Billie Sol Estes) and The John Birch Society. On their live album, they sang Moscow Nights in Russian, a somewhat controversial decision at the time. 

Kobluk told the Trail Times “in the early 1960s we worked with Belafonte, culminating in a Carnegie Hall concert he hosted featuring Miriam Makeba, Odetta, the Belafonte Singers and us.” They also toured South America in 1962, part of a U.S. cultural exchange program. 

“Over time, we’d renew our association with Belafonte, and years later when this particular march was being organized (the Selma, Alabama March with Dr. Martin Luther King), our reputation on records and in performance put us on Bellefonte’s list.  We proudly accepted,” Kobluk said. 

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The group left Belafonte Enterprises in 1962 for Mercury Records and continued to add political songs to their repertoire. They continued to write provocative songs like The Draft Dodger Rag and Barry’s Boys, lampooning Barry Goldwater’s Republican 1964 run for the US presidency.  

In 1965, Mitchell quit the group and “replaced him with the young and (unknown) singer/songwriter John Denver. The group retained the well-known “Mitchell Trio” name, with Denver writing some of the group’s songs”, according to the Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music. Denver stayed for three years. Joe Frazier left in 1966 and David Boise took his place. In 1968, when Kobluk departed, Michael Johnson joined. Because of contractual stipulations, the Mitchell name could no longer be used. This new group ultimately became known as Denver, Boise and Johnson, finally disbanding in 1969. 

Speaking to the Trail Times, Kobluk said, “(We) performed songs of political and social commentary, not exclusively, but such material was an important part of any program. Each opportunity and voting rights for all, were high on our personal and professional priority list and fodder for such commentary.” 

The group reached the Billboard Top 100 with the 1964 album Reflecting, which included a medley of In the Summer of His Years and Rally ‘Round the Flag, recorded after President Kennedy’s assassination. 

Appearing on NBC-TV with Roger McGuinn, The Chad Mitchell trio performed a tremendous medley of folk songs on The Bell Telephone Hour in 1962

After they disbanded, Kobluk, Frazier and Boise moved on to careers outside the music industry. Mitchell cut various solo albums and Denver’s career as a solo performer took hold. Johnson recorded over 15 solo albums and Frazier became an Episcopal Church priest. 

In 1987, Mitchell, Kobluk and Frazier joined with John Denver for a number of concerts, some of which aired on PBS. Those are the only recordings of all four members singing together. 

In 2005, they played alongside The Kingston Trio and Tom Paxton in Minneapolis. and again in 2007 at their Gonzaga alma mater in Spokane. They performed for President Barak Obama in Washington, DC and again in 2009.  

Together, they shared the stage at “Farewell Concert’ (with singer/guitarist Ron Greenstein in place of Joe Frazier, who died in March 2014) in Bethesda, Maryland on November 15, 2014.  

David Eisenstadt is Founding Partner of tcgpr.com, the Canadian Partner of IPREX Global Communication.  He is a graduate of Carleton University’s School of Journalism and the University of Calgary

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Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

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