Quietly traversing the planet as a touring artist since 1965, James has performed for rapt audiences of every age in all 50 states and the District of Columbia and more than 200 cities in 45 countries throughout the Americas, Europe, Scandinavia, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, in Russia, Azerbaijan, Japan, Korea and most recently, numerous times in India (7x) and Israel (5x). In October 2011 he returned to Vietnam for the first time since touring there in 1974, to honor his friend, renowned composer Pham Duy (1920-2013) on the occasion of his 91st birthday (see the VIDEO at right).
Drawing from a rich and ever-evolving repertoire of distinctive songs both original and gathered in some two dozen languages that reflect a global perspective and underscore the interconnectedness we share with all of life, James engages each disparate audience in a participatory journey condensed from his travels, bringing us closer to our world and to each other.
James employs his role as minstrel to communicate global and social concerns common to us all, such as environmental sustainability, world peace and greater human understanding, distilling them into the profoundly personal – and vice versa; while employing the uniquely synergistic qualities of word and melody to dissolve language, cultural and other barriers. Once, following a concert in Skopje, Macedonia, a woman who spoke no English found James backstage. Through an interpreter, she said “I didn’t understand a word, but,” touching the area of her heart, “I understood what you were saying.”
The interplay of his skillful, rhythmic guitar playing and strong, expressive voice provides a colorful palette which he uses to paint compelling musical pictures that encourage individual empowerment and compassionate relationships, while helping us to feel more hopeful about ourselves and our place on the planet. James’ performances are spirited, lighthearted, relevant and often humorous.
“Superb. An excellent international repertoire of songs and a wonderful stage presence. The audience, ranging from school children to emeriti professors, was enthralled. (He) truly convey(s) the richness of diverse cultures and of humanity around the world.”
— Martha Hamilton-Phillips, College of William & Mary, Williamsburg VA
Career Highlights and Distinguishing Features
James has toured in all 50 states & more than 200 cities in 45 countries since 1965, for countless concerts, colleges & universities, coffeehouses & cafes, festivals, schools & libraries, churches & synagogues, house concerts, conferences & community events.
Accompanying himself on 6 and 12-string guitars, he sings original and collected songs in more than two dozen languages
Has composed Words & Music to more than 230 songs
Has made 18 recordings (since 1976) & published 4 books of his songs (1970-75).
Has shared the stage with the likes of Pete Seeger (right), Fred Hellerman, Ronnie Gilbert, John Sebastian, Leo Kottke, Richard Thompson, Odetta, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Earl Scruggs, Don McLean, Bob Gibson, Christine Lavin, Tom Paxton, Magpie, Lui Collins, Josh White Jr., Allen Wayne Damron, Kinky Friedman, David Roth, Jana Stanfield, Steve Goodman, Terence Martin, Peter Rowan, Susan Werner, Sally Fingerett, Marjorie Mazia Guthrie, Steve Martin, Pham Duy & Thai Hien and The Dreamers, The Richard Carpenter Trio (Richard & Karen + Wes Jacobs), Tracy Grammer, Stone Soup, the Walkabout Clearwater Chorus, Stephen Longfellow Fiske, Jim Scott, Molly Scott and Ferne Bork…
As well as visionaries Barbara Marx Hubbard, Jean Houston, Willis Harmon, Marilyn Ferguson, Matthew Fox, Robert Kennedy, Jr (below), Marianne Williamson, Patricia Sun, David Spangler, Alan Cohen, Swami Beyondananda, actors Tom Skerritt, William Schallert and others
Introduced ‘Trio Life’ (James, Ritt Henn/bass, Robin Daniels/percussion) at the Turning Point Café (Piermont NY) CD party celebrating the release of Internationally Unknown. Special Guests included vocalists Madhumita Chakrabartti and Open Book (Michele Rubin & Rick Gedney), recorder virtuoso Jeremy Goldsmith and Fred Gillen, Jr. (October 2006)
In 2003, founded Work o’ the Weavers (www.workotheweavers.com) with David Bernz, Martha Sandefer and Mark Murphy to celebrate the musical legacy of America’s pioneering folk quartet, the Weavers. A WotW performance not only includes the beloved familiar songs, but also newer songs The Weavers might be singing today. With two CDs to their credit, Work o’ the Weavers has shared their affectionate homáge with enthusiastically participatory audiences in 28 states throughout New England, up and down the East Coast, across the U.S., in Canada and Israel.
His song I Wish You Good Evening (with its lyric, “I wish you safe harbor” – and stellar harmonica solo by Howard Levy) was selected as theme song for the Safe Harbor Project, an online resource for information about alternative mental health (http://www.alternativementalhealth.com) (Hear it on the player, above right)
Author/Composer of the eco-peace world musical, Hue Manatee’s Quest, which had its world premiere and CD release in June 2009 at the Guthrie Center in Great Barrington, Massachusetts
Has co-written a song with Issachar Miron (Tzena Tzena, many more), authoring new lyrics to his Alleluia canon and recording it with David Bernz and Martha Sandefer of Work o’ the Weavers (2010). Google ‘Issachar Miron, James Durst’ for other recordings of Mr. Miron’s work.
His songs Cycle Song of Life (The River Song) (Hear it on the player, above right) and Starlight, Star Bright were included in a beautiful 4-color, 4-page spread in the new 4th Grade music textbook, Making Music (Silver Burdett, 2002).
His story, Searching for #77, the gripping account of the 1971 theft and recovery of his beloved 12-string guitar, handcrafted by Cuban emigré Miguel Company, was published in Bruce Pollock’s book, Working Musicians (Harper Collins, 2002).
His song Holiday Invitation was featured among those in the 2002 NPR Holiday Special, Peace on Earth, produced by Paul Ingles and hosted by Judy Collins.
Also in 2002 Durst, an amateur alchemist, made an unheralded yet significant contribution to science by adding to the Periodic Table of Elements with his discovery of Surprisium (sur-pree-zee-um), a highly unstable element with the average atomic weight 33.3. Preliminary data suggests that Surprisium (Sp) vacillates among the states of gas, liquid and solid depending essentially upon the perception of the observer. More can be gleaned from his 2002 CD release, Element of Surprise.
Produced and starred in the award-winning singalong children’s videos, A Great Day for Singing! and its sequel, Another Great Day for Singing!, then followed up at the request of parents with the companion family singalong CD, Isn’t This a Great Day for Singing?!
His song, Starlight, Star Bright was recorded by Red Grammer (‘Hello World’)
His What If…? (It’s A Jumble Out There) (See/hear James singing it at VIDEOS, above) was recorded by Scott Kalechstein (‘Maps For the New World’)
His rendition of the Turkish traditional song, Ali Pasha (on his CD, ‘My Country Is The World’), was chosen by SONY BMG for inclusion in an 816-song educational compilation package
Received a grant from the New Hampshire Council on the Arts/NEA to compose a Town Song, Amherst Is My Home, for Amherst NH, 1999
Minstrel-ln-Residence, Seeds of Peace International Camp for Conflict Resolution, summers of 1997 & ’98 and Composer of the camp anthem, ‘I Am A Seed Of Peace’ (Singing together in Washington DC, right)
Music Director, Interlocken International Camp, Hillsboro New Hampshire, Summer 1999
Has conducted his ‘En Choeur’ Choral Residency from coast to coast, and in Guatemala and Honduras
Joined by Patch Adams, his wife Linda, and James’ singing partner Ferne Bork (1981-1990), sang & laughed & cried with Russian veterans of the ‘Great War’ in Red Square at the dawn of glasnost/perestroika, May 1985. James & Ferne were among a delegation of 80 “citizen diplomats” promoting peace, including spiritual leaders Barbara Marx Hubbard, Patricia Sun, Swami Satchidananda, actors Mike Farrell & wife Shelley Fabares, Dennis Weaver & his wife, and many others seeking to thaw relations between the US and USSR.
Produced and hosted peregryn, a weekly radio exploration of the world’s traditional musics, on Chicago’s NPR station, WBEZ, 1975.
Founded and headed The Songsmith Society in 1975, a not-for-profit artist’s collaborative and precursor of like-minded organizations such as Hey Rube! and Folk Alliance; which produced The Songsmith Series (concerts in Chicago), The Songsmith Journal (short-lived magazine) and the Songs For A Small Planet catalog representing the recorded work of 36 visionary artists.
Toured throughout South Vietnam with and translated 15 songs into English by renowned Vietnamese composer-performer Pham Duy (who translated 10 of James’ songs into Vietnamese), publishing a bi-lingual songbook, Songs/Ca Khuc, together under the auspices of the Vietnamese American Association in Saigon, 1974.
Has authored additional English translations from Icelandic, Russian, German & Greek, as well as composed songs in French and Japanese.
Has emceed events ranging from a Coptic Conference to a Mrs. USA Pageant.
Lead Actor/Singer, Copenhagen’s English-language Mermaid Theater, Summer 1973.
Had his own program on Icelandic State Television not once, but three times!
B.A., Radio/TV/Film (1969), California State University at Long Beach, appearing in one of classmate Steven Spielberg’s student films. Also appeared in concert with classmates Richard & Karen Carpenter. And was the voice/narrator of the CSULB ‘Forty-Niner’ Marching Band and Symphonic Wind Ensemble under the direction of H. Robert Reynolds.
Grand Prize Winner, ‘Mon Ami/Mecca’ Folk Music Contest, Orange County CA, besting banjo player/comedian Steve Martin in the 1965 competition finals.