Malvina Milder was born in San Francisco to David and Abagail Milder, Jewish and socialist immigrants, who opposed involvement in World War I.
She married William ("Bud") Reynolds, a carpenter and labor organizer, in 1934. They had one child, Nancy Reynolds Schimmel (a songwriter and performer in her own right), in 1935. Malvina had earned her Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts in English from the University of California, Berkeley, and later earned a doctorate there, finishing her dissertation in 1938. 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," recorded by Pete Seeger, Walk off the Earth and others, "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.
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