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Guy Carawan, folk singer, civil rights pioneer, dies in New Market

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Posted at 8:45 PM, May 02, 2015
and last updated 2015-05-08 15:11:52-04

Folk singer and musician Guy Carawan, who introduced the song “We Shall Overcome” to those rallying for civil rights in the 1960s, died Saturday after a lengthy illness. He was 87.

Mr. Carawan had suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and died in his sleep at his home near the Highlander Research and Education Center in New Market, said his wife, Candie Carawan.

“Guy very peacefully slipped away,” she said. “When you know somebody is on their way, it was really the best way to go, and I was very grateful that was how it was.”

She said the family was planning a private funeral ceremony.

The work of the Carawans was celebrated at the East Tennessee History Center last month with retrospective films and music by friends.

Candie and the couple’s daughter, Heather Carawan, called the celebration a fitting tribute and said they were happy the event was held when it was.

“There was a very, very nice energy that evening,” said Candie Carawan.

When told of Carawan’s death, Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero praised his “great, generous spirit; his love of music and of his fellow men and women.”

“We will miss Guy Carawan,” the mayor said. “His lifelong work for justice will be impossible to replace. My thoughts are with Candie, Evan and Heather and all of his family and friends.”

The Carawans were from California and met after attending a sit-in demonstration in Nashville in 1960. They married a year later.

The Carawans marched with Martin Luther King through the streets of Selma, Ala., and made recordings that preserved an on-the-ground record of the civil rights movement.

Mr. Carawan introduced the song “We Shall Overcome” to the movement.

The couple and their children lived with and documented the people and stories of Johns Island, S.C., and preserved those stories in books and recordings.

They also worked with coal miners and others in union battles while recording their own albums of songs.

Staff writer Wayne Bledsoe contributed to this report.