Bob Dylan (/ˈdɪlən/; born Robert Allen Zimmerman, May 24, 1941) is an American singer, songwriter, artist, and writer. He has been influential in popular music and culture for more than five decades. Much of his most celebrated work dates from the 1960s when his songs chronicled social unrest, although Dylan repudiated suggestions from journalists that he was a spokesman for his generation. Nevertheless, early songs such as “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are a-Changin'” became anthems for the American civil rights and anti-war movements. After he left his initial base in the American folk music revival, his six-minute single “Like a Rolling Stone” altered the range of popular music in 1965. His mid-1960s recordings, backed by rock musicians, reached the top end of the United States music charts while also attracting denunciation and criticism from others in the folk movement.
Dylan’s lyrics have incorporated various political, social, philosophical, and literary influences. They defied existing pop music conventions and appealed to the burgeoning counterculture. Initially inspired by the performances of Little Richard, and the songwriting of Woody Guthrie, Robert Johnson and Hank Williams, Dylan has amplified and personalized musical genres. His recording career, spanning 50 years, has explored the traditions in American song—from folk, blues, and country to gospel, rock and roll, and rockabilly to English, Scottish, and Irish folk music, embracing even jazz and the Great American Songbook. Dylan performs with guitar, keyboards, and harmonica. Backed by a changing line-up of musicians, he has toured steadily since the late 1980s on what has been dubbed the Never Ending Tour. His accomplishments as a recording artist and performer have been central to his career, but his greatest contribution is considered his songwriting.
Since 1994, Dylan has published six books of drawings and paintings, and his work has been exhibited in major art galleries. As a musician, Dylan has sold more than 100 million records, making him one of the best-selling artists of all time; he has received numerous awards including Grammy, Golden Globe, and Academy Award; he has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Minnesota Music Hall of Fame, Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, and Songwriters Hall of Fame. The Pulitzer Prize jury in 2008 awarded him a special citation for “his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.” In May 2012, Dylan received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama.
Bob Dylan was born Robert Allen Zimmerman in St Mary’s Hospital on May 24, 1941, in Duluth, Minnesota, and raised in Hibbing, Minnesota, on the Mesabi Range west of Lake Superior. He has one younger brother named David. Dylan’s paternal grandparents Zigman and Anna Zimmerman emigrated from Odessa in the Russian Empire (now Ukraine) to the United States following the anti-Semitic pogroms of 1905. His maternal grandparents Ben and Florence Stone were Lithuanian Jews who arrived in the U.S. in 1902. In his autobiography Chronicles: Volume One, Dylan writes that his paternal grandmother’s maiden name was Kirghiz and her family originated from Kağızman district of Kars Province in north-eastern Turkey.
Dylan’s parents Abram Zimmerman and Beatrice “Beatty” Stone were part of the area’s small but close-knit Jewish community. Robert Zimmerman lived in Duluth until age six, when his father had polio and the family returned to his mother’s home town Hibbing where the family spent the rest of his childhood. Robert Zimmerman spent his early years listening to the radio—first to blues and country stations from Shreveport, Louisiana, and, as a teen, to rock and roll. Zimmerman formed several bands while attending Hibbing High School. In the Golden Chords, he performed covers of songs by Little Richard and Elvis Presley. Their performance of Danny & the Juniors’ “Rock and Roll Is Here to Stay” at their high school talent show was so loud that the principal cut the microphone. In 1959, his high school yearbook carried the caption: “Robert Zimmerman: to join ‘Little Richard’.”The same year, as Elston Gunnn , he performed two dates with Bobby Vee, playing piano and clapping.
Zimmerman moved to Minneapolis in September 1959 and enrolled at the University of Minnesota. His focus on rock and roll gave way to American folk. In 1985, he said:
The thing about rock’n’roll is that for me anyway it wasn’t enough… There were great catch-phrases and driving pulse rhythms… but the songs weren’t serious or didn’t reflect life in a realistic way. I knew that when I got into folk music, it was more of a serious type of thing. The songs are filled with more despair, more sadness, more triumph, more faith in the supernatural, much deeper feelings.
He began to perform at the Ten O’Clock Scholar, a coffeehouse a few blocks from campus, and became involved in the Dinkytown folk music circuit.
During his Dinkytown days, Zimmerman began introducing himself as “Bob Dylan”. In his memoir, Dylan acknowledged that he had been influenced by the poetry of Dylan Thomas. Explaining his change of name in a 2004 interview, Dylan remarked: “You’re born, you know, the wrong names, wrong parents. I mean, that happens. You call yourself what you want to call yourself. This is the land of the free.”
Dylan married Sara Lownds on November 22, 1965. Their first child, Jesse Byron Dylan, was born on January 6, 1966, and they had three more children: Anna Lea (born July 11, 1967), Samuel Isaac Abram (born July 30, 1968), and Jakob Luke (born December 9, 1969). Dylan also adopted Sara’s daughter from a prior marriage, Maria Lownds (later Dylan, born October 21, 1961). Bob and Sara Dylan were divorced on June 29, 1977. Maria married musician Peter Himmelman in 1988. In the 1990s, Dylan’s son Jakob became well known as the lead singer of the band The Wallflowers. Jesse Dylan is a film director and a successful businessman.
Desiree Gabrielle Dennis-Dylan, Dylan’s daughter with his backup singer Carolyn Dennis (often professionally known as Carol Dennis), was born on January 31, 1986, and Dylan married Carolyn Dennis on June 4, 1986. The couple divorced in October 1992. Their marriage and child remained a closely guarded secret until the publication of Howard Sounes’ Dylan biography, Down the Highway: The Life Of Bob Dylan in 2001.
When not touring, Dylan is believed to live primarily in Point Dume, a promontory on the coast of Malibu, California, though he also owns property around the world.