A Life in Song: Jack Presbury, Product of the Folk Revival

By Abby Church 

For Jack Presbury, a JMU professor who teaches in the graduate counseling program, music has always been a hobby. Now that he’s retired, he’s taking more time to focus on his creative outlet.

Originally from Kansas City, Presbury has been writing songs all his life. Growing up in the ’60s during the folk revival — a time he jokes some people called the “Great Folk Scare” — he quickly fell in love with the genre.

“I just loved the music,” Presbury said. “The thing I really loved was that it came out of the old celtic traditions of telling stories. I’m more interested in the lyrics than I am in the melodies. I thought it was a way to write poetry to music.”

Most of Presbury’s songs are about travelling, love, broken relationships and home. When he worked as a psychologist at a mental health center in Tennessee for six years, he found inspiration in his clients, who led decidedly difficult lives. In general, Presbury says that most of the inspiration for his music is drawn from life.

It wasn’t until recently that Presbury started sharing his music. While he isn’t planning any big projects, his son-in-law convinced Presbury to let him post his music online.

“He was afraid I was going to die before people heard my songs, so he’s been putting them on YouTube,” Presbury said.

Presbury has 70 songs posted on YouTube to date, and more are coming. Recently, a friend of his asked if he had an old reel-to-reel tape recorder he could borrow. Turns out, Presbury had one that contained an improbable surprise. On Presbury’s old tape recorder, they found a dozen songs he’d recorded in the ’70s. Astounded by the unwitting discovery, he made a deal with his friend.

“I said, ‘If you can recover these songs for me, you can have this tape recorder,’” Presbury said.

Excited that he gained back these 40-year-old songs he couldn’t recall, Presbury’s currently in the process of relearning them.

Having taught at JMU for 37 years, Presbury’s currently in his third year of retirement, yet he’s still here. He says the teaching and students keep him coming back.

While he remains busy with teaching, Presbury plays in music circle every week in Staunton where they play and trade songs, and even attends a music camp at Maryville College in Tennessee with colleagues every summer. Although he didn’t retire to focus solely on his music, Presbury’s newfound free time has given him ample time to do one thing he loves the most.

“I’ve always been doing my music, it just, I haven’t had enough time for it while I was full-time teaching,” Presbury said. “I’m still writing and still playing.”

Photos courtesy of Jack Presbury 

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