Malvina Reynolds (August 23, 1900 – March 17, 1978) was an American folk/blues singer-songwriter and political activist, best known for her song-writing, particularly the songs “Little Boxes” and “Morningtown Ride”.
Though she played violin in a dance band in her twenties, she began her songwriting career late in life. She was in her late 40s when she met Earl Robinson, Pete Seeger, and other folk singers and songwriters. She returned to school at UC Berkeley, where she studied music theory. She went on to write several popular songs, including “Little Boxes,” “What Have They Done to the Rain,” recorded by The Searchers, Melanie Safka and Joan Baez (about nuclear fallout), “It Isn’t Nice” (a civil rights anthem), “Turn Around” (about children growing up, later sung by Harry Belafonte), and “There’s a Bottom Below” (about depression). Reynolds was also a noted composer of children’s songs, including “Magic Penny” (a traditional London folk song during the 1940s) and “Morningtown Ride,” a top five UK single (December 1966) recorded by The Seekers.
“Little Boxes” was inspired visually by the houses of Daly City, California. Nancy Reynolds Schimmel, daughter of Malvina Reynolds, explained:
“My mother and father were driving South from San Francisco through Daly City when my mom got the idea for the song. She asked my dad to take the wheel, and she wrote it on the way to the gathering in La Honda where she was going to sing for the Friends Committee on Legislation. When Time Magazine (I think, maybe Newsweek) wanted a photo of her pointing to the very place, she couldn’t find those houses because so many more had been built around them that the hillsides were totally covered.”