Malvina Reynolds (August 23, 1900 – March 17, 1978) was an American folk/blues singer-songwriter and political activist, best known for her song writing, particularly the song, "Little Boxes."
Malvina Milder was born in San Francisco to David and Abagail Milder, Jewish and socialist immigrants, who opposed involvement in World War I.
She married William ("Bud") Reynolds, a carpenter and labour organizer, in 1934. They had one child, Nancy Reynolds Schimmel (a songwriter and performer in her own right), in 1935. She had earned her Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts in English from the University of California, Berkeley, and later earned a doctorate there, finishing her dissertation in 1938. She could not find a job teaching at the college level. She became a social worker and a columnist for the People's World and, when World War II started, an assembly-line worker at a bomb factory. When her father died, she and her husband took over her parents' naval tailor shop in Long Beach, California.
Though she played violin in a dance band in her twenties, she began her song writing career late in life. She was in her late 40s when she met Earl Robinson, Pete Seeger, and other folk singers and songwriters. She returned to Berkeley, and to the University, where she took music theory classes in the early fifties.
She went on to write several popular songs, including "Little Boxes," "What Have They Done to the Rain," recorded by The Searchers and Joan Baez (about nuclear fallout), "It Isn't Nice" (a civil rights anthem), "Turn Around" (about children growing up, later sung by Harry Belafonte), and "There's a Bottom Below" (about depression). Reynolds was also a noted composer of children's songs, including "Magic Penny" and "Morningtown Ride," a top five UK single (December 66) recorded by The Seekers. She wrote songs for Women for Peace, the Nestle Boycott, the sit-ins in San Francisco on auto row and at the Sheraton-Palace, the fight against putting a freeway through Golden Gate Park and other causes.
Here’s “The Albatross” released 1969. Accompanying Malvina is Bill Lee on bass and Eric Weissberg on Lead Guitar.
Four collections of her music are available on compact disc. The Smithsonian Folkways label released Another County Heard From (Folkways 02524) and Ear to the Ground (Smithsonian Folkways 40124), and the Omni Recording Corporation in Australia issued Malvina Reynolds (Omni 112) and "Malvina Reynolds Sings the Truth" (Omni 114).
"Little Boxes" was inspired visually by the houses of Daly City, California. Nancy Reynolds Schimmel, daughter of Malvina Reynolds, explained:
"My mother and father were driving South from San Francisco through Daly City when my mom got the idea for the song. She asked my dad to take the wheel, and she wrote it on the way to the gathering in La Honda where she was going to sing for the Friends Committee on Legislation. When Time Magazine wanted a photo of her pointing to the very place, she couldn't find those houses because so many more had been built around them that the hillsides were totally covered."
In her later years, Malvina Reynolds contributed songs and material to PBS's Sesame Street, on which she made occasional appearances as a character called "Kate." (Info edited from Wikipedia & Sisterschoice)
Here's Malvina with Pete Seeger and Ramblin' Jack Elliot