“I keep my setlists for every concert that I’ve ever done,” Charlie King said in an interview. “And I have a setlist in Toledo that goes back to, let’s see — 1981. So I’ve been playing in Toledo for, god, coming up on 40 years, aren’t we?”
Toledo is just one destination in an expansive career for King, a folk singer and activist who has sung truth to power for nearly a half-century. Since the late 1960s, King has built a musical legacy as a satirist whose lyrical tunes address social ills and protest inequality, in a way that’s both relatable and genuinely funny. Well-regarded by his peers, King’s tunes have been covered by artists such as Arlo Guthrie and Pete Seeger.
For the vast majority of his touring career, King’s performances have been small fundraisers in aid of area causes. That’s true of his upcoming gig in Toledo on Friday, April 20 at 7 pm at St. Paul’s Methodist Church on Madison Ave. All proceeds from the event will benefit St. Paul’s Marketplace for All People.
“When I first started coming to Toledo, it had to do with some of the anti-nuclear power plant organizations that were going on out there. Other Midwest towns like Gary, Indiana, my connections might have been through the steelworkers union. Chicago I’ve played over the years, in relationship to the Catholic worker houses there that are houses of hospitality, and peace and justice activism,” King said.
“Largely, I am brought to an area because there are individuals and groups that are working on making the world a better place, trying to end wars and spread the wealth around, and trying to make sure that people who are hungry and homeless have a place to go.”
Born in Brockton, Mass. in 1947, King became enamored of folk music as a tool for societal change in the late 1960s, in the tradition of protests that rose in the wake of the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War. King still believes in music’s ability to speak on behalf of the oppressed, and said that he is heartened by modern musicians finding ways to carry on that tradition in their own genres.
Change from the bottom up
“I think whenever people become active to organize for some kind of change in society, that they quickly realize that culture of various forms is a tool that they can use in creating that change,” King said.
“And part of that is because it becomes a way that we can tell our own story, because we can’t always rely on the press or radio or television to reliably tell our story, because history gets reported and recorded from the top down. And songs about social change, or songs that people write about from a context of struggle are written from the bottom up. So it’s a different look at things.”
King shows no signs of slowing down 50 years into his career, either. He released a new CD, “Life & Love, Tears & Laughter” last year, and his Toledo gig is just one of nine in the month of April alone. As long as there is a cause to fight for, King and his guitar remain ready.
“The strongest thing that I can bring to a community is, you have these concerns in your community — it might be about a chemical plant that is dumping stuff into the river, it might be about a union that is on strike, or it might be about people being turned out of their homes, foreclosures, things like that. And I can go into a community and say, I have 12 songs in my repertoire that reflect on the issues that you’re dealing with. And people want to hear their lives and their struggles reflected in songs.”
Tickets for Charlie King’s concert at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church are $10. For more information, visit charlieking.org.