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Randy Sparks, who founded the New Christy Minstrels, dead at 90

Randy Sparks

Randy Sparks, who founded the New Christy Minstrels during the 1960s and co-wrote the folk group’s biggest hit, “Green, Green,” died on Feb. 11. He was 90.

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Sparks died at an assisted living facility in San Diego, The New York Times reported. His son, Kevin Sparks, confirmed the death and said that the singer had been living at his ranch in Lind, California, until a few days before his death, according to the newspaper.

Sparks helped spearhead the 1960s folk revival and was instrumental in furthering the careers of Kenny Rogers, John Denver, Barry McGuire, Gene Clark and Steve Martin, The Washington Post reported.

Sparks formed the New Christy Minstrels in 1961, according to Variety. The group hit the Billboard Hot 100 in 1963 with “Green, Green,” which he co-wrote with McGuire, who later wrote “Eve of Destruction”; “Today”; and “Denver,” the entertainment news website reported.

The New Christy Minstrels won a Grammy Award in 1963 for best performance by a chorus for their debut album “Presenting the New Christy Minstrels. The album included the Woody Guthrie folk classic “This Land is Your Land,” the Post reported.

The album remained on the Billboard albums chart for two years, according to Variety.

Sparks was bypassed for a role in the 1958 movie, “Thunder Road,” which starred Robert Mitchum, the Post reported. However, he collaborated with Mitchum to write the film’s opening song, “The Ballad of Thunder Road.”

During the 1962 and ‘63 television series, the New Christy Minstrels appeared on 26 episodes of “The Andy Williams Show” and on eight shows of “Hootenanny,” the Times reported.

During the mid-1960s, Sparks sold his interest in the New Christy Minstrels for $2.5 million and moved to Northern California, according to Variety. He began a 30-year collaboration with his idol, Burl Ives, and opened Ledbetter’s, a nightclub in Los Angeles, according to the entertainment news website.

In addition to the New Christy Minstrels, ran the Back Porch Majority, which he stocked with promising performers, the Times reported. He watched a young Martin win second place in a banjo contest at the Knott’s Berry Farm amusement park in California and invited him to join the group, according to the newspaper.

Sparks also hired a singer-songwriter in 1967, Henry John Deutschendorf Jr., as an opening act for the Back Porch Majority, but insisted that he shorten his name, the Times reported. He did -- to John Denver.

Other Sparks proteges included Rogers, who would sell more than 100 million records as a country star; Carnes, who recorded the hit “Bette Davis Eyes” in 1981; and Clark, a founder of the rock-folk group The Byrds, according to the newspaper.

Lloyd Arrington Sparks was born on July 29, 1933, in Leavenworth, Kansas, according to the Times.

He was drafted into the U.S. Navy shortly after moving to San Diego and changing his stage name to Randy Sparks. He won a talent contest in the Navy two times, which earned him a spot on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” according to the newspaper.

After leaving the Navy, Sparks toured with Bob Hope and also recorded a pair of solo albums, “Randy Sparks” in 1958 and “Walkin’ the Low Road” the following year.

Sparks also had the lead role in the 1960 crime thriller “The Big Night,” according to IMDb.com.