Born May 24, 1941, in Duluth, Minnesota, Robert Allen Zimmerman’s family moved to Hibbing when he was six. After taking up guitar and harmonica, he formed the Golden Chords while a high school freshman. He enrolled at the arts college of the University of Minnesota in 1959; during his three semesters there, he began performing solo at coffeehouses as Bob Dylan; he legally changed his name in August 1962.
Dylan moved to New York City in January 1961, saying he wanted to meet Woody Guthrie, who by then was hospitalized with Huntington’s chorea. Dylan visited his idol frequently. That April he played New York’s Gerdes Folk City as the opening act for bluesman John Lee Hooker, with a set of Guthrie-style ballads and his own lyrics set to traditional tunes. A New York Times review by Robert Shelton alerted A&R man John Hammond, who signed Dylan to Columbia and produced his 1962 debut album.
Although Bob Dylan contained only two originals (“Talking New York” and “Song to Woody”), Dylan stirred up the Greenwich Village folk scene with his caustic humor and gift for writing deeply resonant topical songs. The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (Number 22, 1963) included the soon-to-be folk standard “Blowin’ in the Wind” (a hit for Peter, Paul and Mary), “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall,” and “Masters of War,” protest songs on par with Guthrie’s and Pete Seeger’s. Joan Baez, already established as a “protest singer,” recorded Dylan’s songs and brought him on tour; in summer 1963 they became lovers.