Born Robert Allen Zimmerman on May 24, 1941, in Duluth, MN; name legally changed August 9, 1962; son of Abraham (a furniture and appliance salesman) and Beatty (Stone) Zimmerman; married Sara Lowndes, November 22, 1965 (divorced, 1977); children: Jesse, Maria, Jakob, Samuel, Anna. Education: Attended University of Minnesota, 1959-60. Addresses: Office--c/o 264 Cooper Station, New York, NY 10003.

Singer and songwriter Bob Dylan is recognized worldwide for the impact he has had on rock music since his career began in the early 1960s, and has managed to maintain his popularity among fans and critics alike over the ensuing decades. Although known primarily for his caustic and candid lyrics that reveal the defiant stance on authority, politics, and social norms prevalent among the 60's generation of Americans, Dylan's fans are from a variety of age groups, all of whom identify with the raw human emotion expressed in his lyrics. Dylan's own humanity was brought to the public's attention in May, 1997, when the legendary artist canceled a planned European tour and was hospitalized due to a serious health condition called pericarditis. Yet Dylan returned to the stage in August, and released Time out of Mind to rave reviews in September. As further evidence of Dylan's broad appeal and the magnitude of his contributions to music, he performed in Bologna, Italy, in September, 1997, after receiving a special invitation from Pope John Paul II.

Dylan was born Robert Allen Zimmerman on May 24, 1941, in Duluth, Minnesota, to Abraham Zimmerman, a furniture and appliance salesman, and Beatty Stone Zimmerman. In 1947 the family moved to the small town of Hibbing, Minnesota, where Dylan spent an unremarkable childhood. He began writing poems at the age of ten, and as a teenager taught himself to play the piano, harmonica, and guitar. He appreciated a wide variety of music--from country to rock 'n' roll--and admired the works of Elvis Presley, Hank Williams, Little Richard, and Jerry Lee Lewis. Dylan played in many bands during his high school years, including the Golden Chords and Elston Gunn and His Rock Boppers, before enrolling at the University of Minnesota in 1959.

While he was a student at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, the artist began performing as a folk singer and musician under the name Bob Dylan at such popular Minneapolis night clubs as Ten O'Clock Scholar cafe and St. Paul's Purple Onion Pizza Parlor. Dylan soon became more involved with his musical career than with his studies, so he dropped out of school in 1960 and headed straight for New York City. The young performer's interest in New York City was based upon his desire to become involved in the folk music scene that was then emerging in the city's Greenwich Village and upon his wish to meet his idol, folk singer Woody Guthrie. Dylan promptly became a popular performer in Greenwich Village coffee houses and night clubs, and also managed to become a regular performer for Guthrie. The young Dylan quickly gained the respect and admiration of his peers in the folk music scene with his ability to compose his own melodies and lyrics at an astonishing pace. He also became well known outside of the folk music scene in New York City in 1961, when New York Times critic Robert Shelton witnessed one of his performances at a club called Gerde's Folk City and declared that Dylan was "bursting at the seams with talent."

Dylan was 20 years old when he released his self-titled debut album in 1962. Although most of the songs were cover tunes, Dylan did include two original compositions--"Song to Woody," which was a tribute to Guthrie, and "Talkin' New York." The album achieved limited success, and Dylan followed it in 1963 with The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, which contained more original songs that shared a common theme of protest. Two of the songs from Dylan's second album, "Blowin' In the Wind" and "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall," became enduring anthems of the 1960s, largely because they definitively illustrate the thoughts and feelings of the counterculture's young members. As confirmation of Dylan's success, the renowned folk group Peter, Paul, and Mary recorded a cover version of "Blowin' In the Wind" that rose to the number two spot on the pop music charts.

By the time Dylan released 1964's The Times They Are A-Changin', he had been thrust into the role of media spokesperson for the counterculture protest movement which sought to abolish social and political norms. This third album contained the protest song "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll." But at the same time the album was released, Dylan began to express his growing pessimism about the counterculture's ability to affect change, and declared that he was uncomfortable with his role as the movement's mouthpiece. His next album, Another Side of Bob Dylan, further evidenced his disillusionment with the counterculture movement, as it contained extremely personal folk ballads and love songs, rather than his trademark protest songs. In 1965 Dylan enraged his folk music following by performing on an electric guitar at the Newport Folk Festival (fans there booed Dylan and his band off the stage) and by releasing Bringing It All Back Home, an album on which Dylan returned to his earlier musical influences of rock 'n' roll and rhythm and blues. While the songs on this album remained critical of society, none contained any of the direct references to racism, war, or political activism that had marked his earlier works. The acoustic song "Mr. Tambourine Man" from Bringing It All Back Home was soon recorded in an electrified form by the popular 1960s band the Byrds and reached the top of the pop music charts; by that time a new brand of music known as "folk rock" had become widely favored among young Americans.

Dylan continued to record songs that fused his folk and rock influences, using mystical, ominous lyrics filled with imagery and allusions, and in 1965 he released Highway 61 Revisited. This album featured songs with themes of alienation, including the well-known "Like a Rolling Stone," which quickly rose to the number two spot on the Billboard singles chart. That same year Dylan married Sara Lowndes, who was a friend of his manager's wife. In 1966 Dylan released Blonde on Blonde, which most critics consider among his best albums because it polished the edgy, harsh rock sounds of Highway 61 Revisited and introduced music unlike any of its predecessors. Although he was wildly successful, Dylan was suffering from the strains of fame. In the 1971 biography Bob Dylan, the artist commented to Anthony Scaduto about his feelings during that period of his life: "The pressures were unbelievable. They were just something you can't imagine unless you go through them yourself. Man, they hurt so much." Similarly, in a 1997 interview with Newsweek's David Gates, Dylan asserted "I'm not the songs. It's like somebody expecting {William} Shakespeare to be Hamlet, or {Wolfgang von} Goethe to be Faust. If you're not prepared for fame, there's really no way you can imagine what a crippling thing it can be."

On July 29, 1966, at the peak of his popularity, Dylan's neck was broken in a near-fatal motorcycle crash. The accident left Dylan with time to recuperate and rest at his Woodstock, New York, home with Sara and their newborn son Jesse. He began reflecting upon his religious beliefs and personal priorities, and wrote songs that reflected his new-found sense of inner peace and satisfaction. Many of these songs were recorded in 1967 with The Band and later released on the 1975 album The Basement Tapes, while others were released on Dylan's first album following the motorcycle accident, 1968's John Wesley Harding. A primarily slow-paced, acoustical album, John Wesley Harding was followed in 1969 by Nashville Skyline and in 1970 by Self Portrait and New Morning. These three albums were greeted with derision by the public and Dylan was criticized harshly by his fans for what they perceived as his failure to comment on the harsh realities of the time, namely the Vietnam War and the struggle for racial equality and civil rights for African Americans.

Dylan's first album to reach the number one spot on music charts was his 1974 effort, Planet Waves, which he recorded with The Band. Although it was not a critical success, the album led to a flood of interest in Dylan's 1974 tour of the United States, where audience demand for tickets far exceeded available seating for his concerts. In 1974, following the tour, Dylan released Before the Flood, a two-album set of music recorded live during the tour; the album rose to number three on music charts.

While Dylan's musical career was on an upswing, his personal life was in a shambles as he became involved in a bitter separation with Sara that included a fierce custody battle over their children. Dylan's 1975 album Blood On the Tracks features songs reflecting the sorrow and passion of his personal life at the time; "If You See Her, Say Hello" directly refers to the breakup of his marriage. Most critics hailed Blood On the Tracks as Dylan's best album since the 1960s, praising the artist's use of visual imagery to blur distinctions between reality and illusion to challenge everyday ideas about the world. The album's searing songs about love and loss, including "Tangled up in Blue," "Shelter from the Storm," and "Idiot Wind," were well-received by Dylan's fans and the album soon reached number one on the charts. Dylan's 1976 album, Desire, which contained a mournful tune entitled "Sara," also reached number one on the charts, and along with Blood on the Tracks, achieved widespread success in both the United States and Europe.

Although Dylan's 1978 album Street Legal was unpopular with his fans, who feared that the performer's personal crises had interfered with his musical abilities, it did not prepare the fans for what was soon to follow. In 1978, while touring to support Street Legal, Dylan experienced a religious vision that he later asserted made him question his moral values and saved him from self-destructive behavior. Pronouncing his belief in fundamentalist Christianity, Dylan began to communicate in his music a concern with religious salvation and the end of the world; many fans expressed displeasure with Dylan's blatant attempts to persuade his listeners to adopt his religious philosophy, but others viewed the lyrics as similar to Dylan's earlier songs about social change and prophecy. Among Dylan's albums during his Christian period, only the 1979 album Slow Train Coming was a commercial success, largely due to the popularity of the Grammy Award-winning single "Gotta Serve Somebody."

In 1983 Dylan released Infidels, an album on which he departed from his overtly religious themes and returned to his more complex, emotionally subtle lyrics in songs such as "Jokerman" and "Don't Fall Apart on Me Tonight." Dylan produced his 1985 album, Empire Burlesque, which displayed a wide range of musical sounds, from gospel to acoustic ballad. In the mid-1980s Dylan remained prominent in the public eye by performing with various other music stars, including superstar Michael Jackson, on the 1985 single "We Are the World" and at the Live Aid benefit concert, both which were designed to raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia. Also in 1985, Dylan released Biograph, a five-album set that contained previously released material and "bootleg" (unreleased) recordings and which also included Dylan's brief commentaries; the set was highly popular and proved a top seller.

The year 1988 marked the beginning of Dylan's collaboration with the Traveling Wilburys, which was a group made up of Dylan and veteran music stars George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, and Tom Petty, on two albums, 1988's Traveling Wilburys and Traveling Wilburys Volume 3--no second volume was ever recorded--which was released in 1990. In 1988 Dylan was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and was honored by noted rock star Bruce Springsteen, who commented during the induction ceremony that "Bob {Dylan} freed the mind the way Elvis {Presley} freed the body. He showed us that just because the music was innately physical did not mean that it was anti-intellectual.... He invented a new way a pop singer could sound, broke through the limitations of what a recording artist could achieve, and changed the face of rock and roll forever."

In May 1997, Dylan was stricken with a sometimes fatal fungal infection called histoplasmosis, which caused the sac surrounding his heart to swell, resulting in a condition known as pericarditis. The news of his subsequent hospitalization concerned numerous music fans, but Dylan was too ill to reflect on the significance of his own mortality. He told Newsweek's David Gates, "Mostly I was in a lot of pain. Pain that was intolerable. That's the only way I can put it." Nevertheless, Dylan recovered, and although he needed to take a variety of medications, he began performing again in August 1997 of that same year. In September Dylan performed for Pope John Paul II--reportedly at the Pope's request--at a eucharistic conference in Bologna, Italy. And in December, 1997, Dylan became the first rock star ever to receive Kennedy Center honors.

In addition to the struggle with illness and the professional accolades that marked Dylan's experience during 1997, the artist's album Time Out of Mind was released in September and was greeted with rave reviews. The album also garnered Dylan three Grammy Awards--Album of the Year, Male Rock Performance (for "Cold Irons Bound"), and Contemporary Folk Album. Critics declared that Dylan had again managed to reinvent himself and provide his fans with a fresh sound. Time's Christopher John Farley applauded the album, pronouncing: "Dylan has found purpose in his inner battle to reignite his imagination. Turning the quest for inspiration itself into relevant rock--that is alchemic magic." And Newsweek contributor Karen Schoemer maintained: "Time Out of Mind is rewarding precisely because it's so outside the present. In an era defined by novelty hits and slick video edits, it's a reminder that music can mean something more: it can be personal, uncompromised and deeply felt."

by Lynn M. Spampinato

Bob Dylan's Career

Composed more than five hundred songs since early 1960s, including "Blowin' in the Wind," "The Times They Are A-Changin'," "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall," "It Ain't Me, Babe," "Mr. Tambourine Man," "Desolation Row," "Like a Rolling Stone," "Lay Lady Lay," and "Forever Young"; recorded with rock groups including The Band, 1975, The Traveling Wilburys (with Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, George Harrison, and Roy Orbison), 1988 and 1990, and The Grateful Dead, 1989; appeared in concert and performed with rock bands including Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and the Grateful Dead, mid 1980s; solo singer and musician in concerts since early 1960s, including appearances at the Newport Folk Festival in 1962 and 1965, the Woodstock Festivals in 1969 and 1994, and the Live Aid benefit concert in 1985; appeared in numerous American cities on tour, including a national tour in 1995-96; international appearances include concerts in Europe, Australia, Japan, and a special performance for Pope John Paul II at a Roman Catholic Youth rally in Bologna, Italy, on September 27, 1997; performed on television programs, including Hard to Handle, 1986, Columbia Records Celebrates the Music of Bob Dylan, 1992, One Irish Rover, 1992, The Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary Celebration, 1993, and MTV Unplugged, 1995; film appearances include Don't Look Back, 1965, Eat the Document, 1966, Johnny Cash: The Man, His World, His Music, 1970, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (also director), 1972, Concert for Bangladesh, 1972, Rolling Thunder, 1977, Renaldo and Clara, 1978, The Last Waltz, 1978, Hearts of Fire, 1987, A Vision Shared: A Tribute to Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly, 1988, and Imagine: John Lennon, 1988.

Bob Dylan's Awards

Tom Paine Award, Emergency Civil Liberties Committee, 1963; honorary Music Degree, Princeton University, 1970; Grammy Awards, National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, best rock vocal performance, 1979, for "Gotta Serve Somebody"; Rolling Stone Music Award, artist of the year (tied with Bruce Springsteen), 1975, and album of the year, 1975, for The Basement Tapes and Blood on the Tracks; inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 1988; Commander Dans L'Ordre des Arts et Lettres from the French Minister of Culture, 1990; Lifetime Achievement Award, National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, 1991; Grammy Award, 1993, for World Gone Wrong; Arts award, Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize Trust, 1997; Lifetime Achievement Award, John F. Kennedy Center honors, 1997; Three Grammy Awards, National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, for Album of the Year, Best Male Rock Performance, and Best Contemporary Folk Album, 1998, for Time Out of Mind.

Famous Works

Recent Updates

July 22, 2003: Dylan's soundtrack album, Masked & Anonymous, is released. Source: Yahoo! Shopping,, July 22, 2003.

June 23, 2004: The University of St. Andrews in Scotland honored Dylan with an honorary doctor of music degree. Source: E! Online,, June 17, 2004.

October 2004: Chronicles: Volume One, Dylan's memoir, will be published by Simon & Schuster, which will also issue Lyrics: 1962-2001, a comprehensive compendium of all Dylan's songs. Source: New York Times,, August 25, 2004.

January 2006: The Times They Are A-Changin', a show by Twyla Tharp based on Dylan's songs, will open at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego, California, in early 2006. Source: New York Times,, August 31, 2005.

November 23, 2005: The earliest known manuscripts by Dylan, 16 pages of handwritten poems written while he was a student at the University of Minnesota, were sold in a Christie's auction for $78,000. Source: New York Times,, November 23, 2005.

December 14, 2005: Dylan signed with XM satellite radio to host a 1-hour weekly show beginning in March, 2006. Source: New York Times,, December 14, 2005.

February 8, 2006: Dylan won a Best Long Form Music Video Grammy Award for No Direction Home. Source: New York Times,, February 9, 2006.

Further Reading


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