2016 Nobel Prize for Literature Winner, Robert Alan Zimmerman, better known as Bob Dylan, was born on May 24, 1941, in Duluth, Minnesota. He learned to play the guitar and harmonica at an early age. Influenced by Elvis Presley, Dylan began writing songs and in high school he formed a band known as the Golden Chords. Early on, he performed under the stage name Elston Gunn.
In 1960, he dropped out of the University of Minnesota and moved to New York, where he began playing music at clubs in Greenwich Village under the name Bob Dylan. There are conflicting stories of how he came to use the name Dylan – one popular theory is that he took the name of poet Thomas Dylan, and another (perhaps more likely according to biography.com) is that he took the name of the main character, Matt Dillon, from the popular television series Gunsmoke. One of his performances was given a glowing review in the New York Times, leading to his first record deal with Columbia Records. It was after securing his record deal that he officially changed his name to Dylan.
During the 1960s, Dylan’s songwriting style became iconic in its reflection of the social unrest of the time, and he became the unofficial voice of the protesters. His song “Blowin’ in the Wind” became a well-known Peter, Paul, and Mary hit and is regularly featured on our playlist of “Timeless Favorites.” He has been called “one of the most original and poetic voices in the history of American popular music.”
In the mid-1960s, Dylan attempted to reinvent his image by including both electric and acoustic sounds in his albums and performances. Fans were not appreciative of the new sound, booing him at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965.
Dylan is not only a singer/songwriter. He has also written a three-volume autobiography and is an artist, having 40 of his original paintings displayed at the National Gallery of Denmark in 2010. In 1973, Dylan appeared in and wrote the soundtrack for Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, which featured the hit “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.” And in 2000, he wrote the song “Things Have Changed” for the movie Wonder Boys. The song earned him a Golden Globe and Academy Award for Best Original Song.
Dylan has won many awards over the course of a career that spans more than five decades, including, on October 13, 2016, most recently the Nobel Prize for Literature for “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” Dylan is the first American to win the Prize for Literature since 1993. He is a member of the Songwriters’ (1982) and Rock and Roll (1989) Halls of Fame, and has won several Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year (1972 and 1997), Best Male Rock Vocal Performance (1979 and 1997), and Best Contemporary Folk Album (2006), among others. And in 2012, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Dylan was married once, to Sara Lowndes. The couple had four children before divorcing in 1977. Dylan also had a relationship during the early ‘60s, with Joan Baez who introduced him to many of her fans by allowing him to open her concerts. Dylan also wrote some of Baez’s best known songs.
Bob Dylan’s music remains timeless in its appeal, and he continues to tour and produce new songs today.
(biography.com, rollingstone.com, allmusic.com)