Erik Darling, 74; Singer-Songwriter and Folk Musician

Erik Darling, who replaced singer Pete Seeger in the Weavers, was a virtuoso on the 12-string guitar. He arranged and recorded the song
Erik Darling, who replaced singer Pete Seeger in the Weavers, was a virtuoso on the 12-string guitar. He arranged and recorded the song "Walk Right In." (Courtesy of Folk Era/Wind River Records)
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By Martin Weil
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 7, 2008

Erik Darling, 74, a singer, songwriter and instrumentalist who played a vital role in the revival of American folk music and was identified with the pulsing 1960s pop hit "Walk Right In," died Aug. 3 in Chapel Hill, N.C. He had lymphoma.

Starting in the late 1950s as the replacement for Pete Seeger, Mr. Darling spent more than four years with the Weavers, the celebrated group at the heart of the post-World War II folk resurgence.

In an interview, Seeger called Mr. Darling a "tremendously talented musician with a subtle sense of poetry and musicianship. . . . He wasn't loud, he wasn't flashy, but very sensitive."

A master of the banjo, a virtuoso on the 12-string guitar, and the possessor of a well-received tenor voice, Mr. Darling over the years could be heard or seen in films and on television, and on records and CDs, as well as on college campuses and at other concert venues in the United States and abroad.

Music reviewer Steve Leggett on called Mr. Darling a "behind-the-scenes innovator on the folk scene for decades."

Climbing quickly to the top of the 1963 charts, " Walk Right In," as arranged and recorded by Mr. Darling and the other two members of the Rooftop Singers, exerted an irresistible uptempo appeal with lyrics such as "Walk right in, sit right down; Baby, let your mind roll on."

Earlier, the Tarriers, another folk group in which Mr. Darling was a member, produced a highly successful version of " The Banana Boat Song," the catchy Jamaican folk number that included the cry "Day-O" and ignited a brief Calypso craze. (The Harry Belafonte version became even better known.)

With the Weavers, Mr. Darling was more than merely a substitute for Seeger, according to one student of the folk scene. Instead, wrote Ron Kolesko in his online "Folk Music Notebook," Mr. Darling "introduced new songs and styles to the group and really held his own."

Fred Hellerman, one of the original Weavers, said yesterday: "Pete never swung the way Erik could swing. His banjo could take command and carry everybody along with it."

Hellerman said Mr. Darling left the group because he "felt at odds with some of our political stances. There was no pressure, but he was reading Ayn Rand and had a libertarian streak."

Of Mr. Darling's later career, Hellerman said his friend "was constantly full of surprises. Erik would disappear for a while and all of a sudden pop up with songs or an album so completely off the wall and different, and of such high quality."

"He would practice the banjo the way Heifetz would practice his violin," he said. "Most of those kids would spend more time fiddling around on it, without concentration. He was aiming for perfection."

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