FRANK HAMILTON SCHOOL

As our mission statement proclaims, AAFFM’s purpose is “to preserve and promote traditional and other folk music and arts in the Atlanta area” though activities at which “such music and arts can be performed, taught, mutually appreciated, and enjoyed.” Consistent with that mission, AAFFM founded and proudly continues to support the Frank Hamilton School.  

In 2015, under AAFFM’s sponsorship, the musician who co-founded one of America’s most successful folk music institutions nearly six decades ago in Chicago set out to do it all again – this time in Atlanta. The Frank Hamilton School opened in October of that year.

You may well know, or know of, Frank Hamilton.  But in case you don’t, Frank was a seminal figure in the American Folk Revival. He collected traditional songs in the field with Guy Carawan; joined the house band for the first American folk music nightclub, Gate of Horn;      co-founded Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music; was a member of the Weavers in 1963; and performed with such folk legends as Pete Seeger, Odetta, and the Clancy Brothers. He even shares the copyright for We Shall Overcome. Frank has been an Atlanta resident for more than three decades.

The Frank Hamilton Folk School (Frank was too modest to choose the name – the founding committee talked him into it!) is modeled after the Old Town School of Folk Music, which Frank and fellow folk musician Win Stracke founded in Chicago in 1957. This teaching and performing institution launched the careers of many notable folk music artists, including Steve Goodman, Roger McGuinn, Bob Gibson and John Prine.  It began modestly by offering guitar and banjo lessons in a communal teaching style and hosting performances by well-known folk musicians. Currently the Old Town School has an enrollment of about 6,000 students per week, 2,700 of them children.

Together Frank and Win developed a classroom technique based upon traditional oral and folk teaching methods: listening, watching, trial and error, and playing by ear. Where other music schools taught sight reading and performance, Win and Frank wanted the Old Town School “method” to retain its emphasis on participation and development of aural skills.  

“We wanted to make music accessible to everyone. We wanted to emphasize the social aspects of music,” says Frank. “We wanted to see involvement by people who wouldn’t normally think they had musical talent, and bring out whatever they had.”

Atlanta’s Frank Hamilton School follows the same approach. And like its Chicago model, it started modestly and is enjoying steady, gradual growth. Operating at first as a subsidiary of AAFFM, the school eventually became independent with its own non-profit 501-C3 status. AAFFM continues to work closely with the school and provides scholarships for young people with financial need to take classes there. Thus your AAFFM membership dues help teach and inspire young people to embrace folk music and foster a stronger folk music community in Atlanta.

The Frank Hamilton School offers regular instruction on several folk instruments and vocal harmony as well as specialty courses at Oakhurst Baptist Church in Decatur.  To learn more about the school and its classes, check its website, www.frankhamiltonschool.org.