Bob Dylan, born in 1941, American musician and songwriter, one of the most important figures in contemporary folk music and rock music. Dylan’s songs of social protest, such as “Blowin’ in the Wind” (1962) and “The Times They Are A-Changin'” (1964), became indelibly associated with the civil rights movement in the United States. Later Dylan was recognized as a rock icon and a gifted, prolific songwriter.
Dylan was born Robert Zimmerman in Duluth, Minnesota. He grew up in the mining community of Hibbing, Minnesota, learning to play the guitar and harmonica in his teens. The aspiring musician attended the University of Minnesota and began his performing career in campus coffeehouses, taking his stage name from Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. Dylan left college in late 1960 without graduating and moved to New York City.
In New York Dylan began playing the folk clubs and coffeehouses in and around Greenwich Village. He also became friends with one of his musical heroes, folk singer-composer Woody Guthrie. Dylan’s debut album, Bob Dylan (1962), followed in the tradition of folk singers such as Guthrie with its guitar- and harmonica-based songs about the poor and downtrodden. Although the album was only moderately successful, Dylan became a major figure with The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (1963) and The Times They Are A-Changin' (1964). These albums are notable for their songs of political protest, such as “Masters of War,” “Only a Pawn in Their Game,” and “With God on Our Side.” Some of his folk songs also became hits for other artists, such as Peter, Paul and Mary; Joan Baez; and the Byrds.
During the mid-1960s Dylan shocked his folk music fans by turning to the electric guitar for a louder, more rock-oriented sound. Despite resistance from many fans and critics, this period produced many of Dylan’s most enduring recordings, including the albums Highway 61 Revisited (1965), Bringing It All Back Home (1965), and Blonde on Blonde (1966). Traces of the folk and blues origins of his style remained in the harsh nasal quality of his voice, which was much imitated by other singers. Dylan’s introspective lyrics, on the other hand, were inspired more by poets and Beat Generation writers.
After his recovery from a motorcycle accident in 1966, Dylan's style turned toward country music with the albums John Wesley Harding (1967) and Nashville Skyline (1969). During the 1960s Dylan profoundly influenced, and was in turn influenced by, many other musical artists, especially the Beatles.
In the 1970s Dylan’s recordings continued to show a wide variety of musical styles. His recordings later in the decade—such as Slow Train Coming (1979)—strongly reflected his conversion to evangelical Christianity. Other albums by Dylan during the decade included New Morning (1970), Planet Waves (1974), Blood on the Tracks (1975), The Basement Tapes (1975), Desire (1976), and Street Legal (1978). Dylan also worked in film during this period, recording the soundtrack and playing a small acting part in Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973) and directing and writing the 1978 movie Renaldo and Clara.
Dylan’s work gradually became less popular and influential during the 1980s and into the early 1990s, with occasional flashes of his earlier brilliance. His albums during this time included Saved (1980), Infidels (1983), Empire Burlesque (1985), Oh Mercy (1989), and Good As I Been To You (1992).
Dylan was elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988 and won a Grammy Award for lifetime achievement in 1991. But despite these career-spanning honors, he continued to produce new material. In 1994 he won the Grammy Award for best traditional folk album for World Gone Wrong (1993). In 1995 Dylan released the album MTV Unplugged, in what essentially marked a return to the folk style of his early years. In a notable triumph, Dylan’s 1997 album Time Out of Mind captured the Grammy Award for album of the year. Two more successful studio albums followed: Love and Theft (2001) and Modern Times (2006).
In early 2001 Dylan won an Academy Award for his song “Things Have Changed” from the soundtrack to the film Wonder Boys (2000). The following year he received the Grammy for best contemporary folk album for Love and Theft. 2004 saw the publication of Chronicles: Volume One, the first installment of Dylan’s memoirs, which surprised critics with its insights, candor, and thoughtfulness.