Green, who specialized in the songs, language and customs of America’s working class, was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, on June 29, 1917, of Ukrainian Jewish parents. As a youth he was drawn both to the vigor and color of the laboring world and the intellectual rigor and excitement of academic life. Thus, he was equally ardent in his careers as a shipwright, teacher and folklorist.
After earning a master’s degree in library science and a doctor’s degree in folklore, Green, in 1972, published his first and still most famous book, Only a Miner: Studies in Recorded Coal-Mining Songs.
In the book he discusses a few songs, such as Nine Pound Hammer, Dark As A Dungeon and The Dream Of A Miner’s Child, that are staples in the bluegrass repertoire.
He is credited with winning Congressional support for passage of the American Folklife Preservation Act of 1976 (P.L. 94-201), which led to the establishment of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.
In August 2007 Green was given a Living Legend medal by the Library of Congress for his tireless efforts in documenting the creativity of working Americans.