Saturday, December 24, 2016

Paul Robeson's November 5, 1951 Conference for Equal Rights for Negroes in the Arts, Sciences and Professions Speech Revisited

In a November 5, 1951 speech to the Conference for Equal Rights for Negroes in the Arts, Sciences and Professions, U.S. protest folk singer and civil rights/anti-war movement activist Paul Robeson said the following:

"One great creation, modern popular music, whether it be in theatre, film, radio, records--wherever it may be--is almost completely based upon the Negro idiom. There is no leading American singer, performer of popular songs, whether it be a Crosby, a Sinatra, a Shore, a Judy Garland, an Ella Logan, who has not listened (and learned) by the hour to Holiday, Waters, Florence Mills, to Bert Williams, to Fitzgerald, and to the greatest of all, Bessie Smith. Without these models, who would ever have heard of a Tucker, a Jolson, a Cantor?....

"...Whence stems even Gershwin? From the music of Negro America joined with the ancient Hebrew idiom. Go and listen to some of the great melodies. Here again is a great American composer, deeply rooted, whether he knew it or not, in an African tradition, a tradition very close to his own heritage.

"I speak very particularly of this popular form. This is very important to the Negro artists, because billions, literally billions of dollars, have been earned and are being earned from their creations, and the Negro people have received almost nothing.

"At another stage of the arts there is no question, as one goes about the world, of the contribution of the Negro folk songs, of the music that sprang from my forefathers in their struggle for freedom--not songs of contentment--but songs like `Go Down Moses' that inspired Harriet Tubman, John Brown, and Sojourner Truth to fight for emancipation...

"...What heartbreak for every Negro composer! Publishing houses taking his songs for nothing and making fortunes...

"...You know, the people created our art in the first place.

"Haydn with his folk songs--the people made it up in the first place...

"So, in the end, the culture which we deal comes from the people..."

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Paul Robeson's July 1949 `Songs of My People" Article Revisited

In a July 1949 article, titled "Songs of My People, U.S. civil rights movement and anti-war movement activist and protest folk singer Paul Robeson wrote the following:

"...Recent investigations have for the first time revealed a whole new field of Negro songs--songs of protest, songs directly calling the Negroes to the struggle for their rights, and against lynch-law, against their exploiters, against capitalists...

"A special place in the corpus of Negro songs is occupied by songs of protest, which were first collected in the southern states in the 1920s by the American journalist, L. Gellert. These songs manifest in full measure the Negro workers' heroic revolutionary spirit, their hatred of their exploiters, and their yearning for the struggle for their human rights and freedom...

"...Let me just say that under capitalist conditions, where all forms and expressions of American art must subordinate themselves to the demands of the market, our native Negro music has been subjected to the very worst of exploitation. Commercial jazz has prostituted and ruthlessly perverted many splendid models of Negro folk music and has corrupted and debased many talented Negro musicians in order to satisfy the desires of capitalist society..."

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Paul Robeson's June 14, 1949 Rockland Palace Speech in NYC Revisited

In a speech at Rockland Palace in New York City on June 14, 1949, U.S. protest folk singer Paul Robeson said the following:

"...As a consequence of my activities for Negro freedom, I had 86 concerts cancelled out of 86...

"Well, they can have their concerts! I'll go back to their cities to sing for the people whom I love, for the Negro and white workers whose freedom will insure my freedom...

"Today the fight is still on for peace and freedom. Concerts must wait...

"I finished my professional tour at its height and announced that never again would I sing at a $5-dollar top, that I would sing at prices so that workers could come in comfort and dignity. I did this because I belonged to working people. I struggled as a boy in the brick-yards, on the docks, in the hotels to get a living and an education...So I said that my talents would henceforth belong to my people in their struggle. And I acted on this. Thousands and thousands came. That's my answer to the bourbons who think they can end my career!..." 

Friday, December 2, 2016

Paul Robeson's July 1939 Theatre Arts TAC Interview Revisited

After interviewing African-American protest folk song and spirituals singer Paul Robeson in 1939, Julia Dorn wrote an article that appeared in the July-August 1939 issue of the Theatre Arts Committee's TAC publication. Following are some excerpts from this article about this 1939 interview of Paul Robeson:


"After ten years of successful concerts, movies and stage engagements abroad, Paul Robeson has come home...

"`When I sang my American folk melodies in Budapest, Prague, Tiflis, Moscow, Oslo, the Hebrides, or on the Spanish front, the people understood and wept or rejoiced with the spirit of the songs. I found that where forces have been the same, whether people weave, build, pick cotton, or dig in the mines, they understand each other in the common language of work, suffering and protest...

"`Many of the old folk songs which are still young today echoed the terrific desire to escape bondage, such as the Negro protest song, "How long must my people weep and mourn."...

"`When I sing "Let my people go," I can feel sympathetic vibrations from my audience, whatever its nationality. It is no longer just a Negro song--it is a symbol of those seeking freedom from the dungeons of fascism...'"

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Paul Robeson's June 4, 1939 Interview Revisited



After interviewing African-American protest folk song and spirituals singer Paul Robeson in 1939, Eugene Gordon wrote an article that appeared in the Sunday Worker newspaper on June 4, 1939. Following are some excerpts from this article about this 1939 interview of Paul Robeson:

"It is difficult to imagine another combination of artistic abilities equaling that of Robeson's on his campaign of education among the people:...singing in an unsurpassed bass the folk songs of the world to the common people of the cities and the countryside...This is Paul Robeson today...

"I have alluded to Robeson's going out among the people and singing the world's folk songs. This is chiefly his new role as an artist...

"`I used to think of myself as a concert artist, after the fashion, say, of Marian Anderson. From years of experience I know now that I am best as a singer of folk songs. And when I say that, I don't mean the songs of the Negro, only.'...

"He has from the beginning considered Negro folk songs great music, although they were generally looked upon as nothing more than simple plantation melodies.

"`If there is one thing I am proud of it is that I have been able to do something, along with others, towards giving this Negro American folk music its rightful place in the world.'

"When he goes on concert tours hereafter his program will consist of folk songs of the people of various nations...There will be Negro songs of protest, revolutionary spirituals of slavery days..."

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Did Paul Robeson Protest Against Korean War More Than The Weavers Did?



On June 27, 1950 Democratic U.S. President Harry S. Truman ordered the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy to intervene militarily in the civil war in Korea; and on June 30, 1950 Democratic U.S. President Truman authorized the beginning of U.S. military air strikes and the use of U.S. military ground forces against targets in North Korea and against North Korean troops in both southern and northern Korea.

But in a speech at a Civil Rights Congress [CRC] anti-war rally of 18,000 people in New York City's Madison Square Garden on June 28, 1950, U.S. anti-war movement and civil rights movement activist and folk song singer Paul Robeson said the following:

"...The people's will for freedom is stronger than atom bombs and we may be sure the people of Korea, Indo-China, the Philippines and Formosa will not treat their invaders lightly any more. We have supported, not only the bankrupt Chiang in China, but all the little Chiangs--equally corrupt and lacking in favor among their people--all over the Far East.

"And the American people must resent this forced alliance of our proud nation with the dishonorable quislings who stand, momentarily, in the way of their peoples' strivings for freedom and independence.

"Our place has always been on the side of the Lafayettes, the heroes of the French Revolution, Touissaints, the Kosciuskos, the Bolivars--not the Quislings of Europe and the Chiangs, the Bao Dai's and the Syngman Rhee's of Asia.

"The meaning of the President's order that the lives of our airmen and sailors must be sacrificed for the government's despicable puppet in Korea, shall not be lost to the millions in the East whose day of freedom is not far off...

"Least of all will the meaning of the President's order be lost to the Negro people. They will know that if we don't stop our armed adventure in Korea today--tomorrow it will be Africa. For the maw of the warmakers is insatiable. They aim to rule the world or ruin it. Their slogan is all or none.

"It has already meant our intervention not only in Korea, but in Formosa, the Philippines and Indo-china with arms, ships, aircraft, and men.

"I have said before, and say it again, that the place for the Negro people to fight for their freedom is here at home--in Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, and Texas--in the Chicago ghetto, and right here in New York's Stuyvesant Town!...

"...It falls upon our shoulders here in the United States to halt our government's intervention on behalf of the corrupt Rhee regime..."

And in a November 24, 1950 speech before 5,000 people in New York City's St. Nicholas Arena at the First National Convention of the Labor Youth League, Robeson also said the following:

"I am happy and proud to take part in this first National Convention of the Labor Youth League...You know, and I know, that there are people in our country who are NOT happy about your meeting. They want you to be quiet while they herd you off to fight the youth of Korea...

"They want you to sit still while the...Eisenhowers turn the universities into barracks and bludgeon your young, inquiring minds into a meek conformity with the policies of the war-minded, the racists, and the rich...

"But YOU say, No!

"You say, No more war! Books not bullets! Bread, not cannon! Life, not death!

"You say, Peace!..."

In the January 1952 issue of his Freedom newspaper, Robeson also wrote:

"Six months ago the truce negotiations began in Korea. But today the bloodshed continues, and American diplomats and top brass persist in carrying on the most shameful war in which our country has ever been engaged...

"A 100,000 Americans dead, wounded and missing have been listed in this war which nobody--not even the most cynical politician--bothers to call a `police action' any more. And more than that, we have killed, maimed and rendered homeless a million Koreans, all in the name of preserving western civilization. U.S. troops have acted like beasts, as do all aggressive, invading, imperialist armies. North and South of the 38th parallel, they have looked upon the Korean people with contempt, called them filthy names, raped their women, lorded it over old women and children, and shot prisoners in the back...

"In Indo-China, Indonesia, Malaya--which side are we on?...In each case we have been on the side of the Dutch, the French and the British colonial powers who stand arrogantly,arms akimbo, feet spread wide, blocking the road to national liberation and independence...

"...We must demand: End War--Make Peace Now! An immediate truce in Korea! A meeting and peace agreement among the 5 major powers!..."

Coincidentally, according to a footnote in the 1978 Paul Robeson Speaks book that Philip Foner edited, "with recording companies refusing to issue his records or record new ones and all concert halls, theaters, etc. closed to him, Robeson, who had been listed among top ten highest paid concert artists of 1941, sees his income dwindle from a high of over $100,000 (equal to around $1.1 million in 2016 U.S. dollars) to about $6,000 (equal to around $54,000 in 2016 U.S. dollars) in 1952..."

Members of the commercially-oriented folk song group, the Weavers, however, apparently did not publicly express opposition to U.S. military intervention in the Korean Civil War between 1950 and 1952 as much as did Robeson; and, coincidentally, the commercially-oriented Weavers folk song group earned a lot more money between 1950 and 1952 than did Robeson (before members of the Weavers were also eventually blacklisted in 1952, because of their 1940's association with left or left-liberal popular front groups, Decca Records Corporation apparently stopped distributing their records or recording new Weavers single records or vinyl albums and most U.S. concert halls and theaters were closed to the Weavers until they were allowed to publicly perform again in a 1955 Carnegie Hall concert in Manhattan).  As Ronald Lankford, Jr. recalled in his book Folk Music USA: The Changing Voice of Protest:

"...The Weavers...signed with Decca...Old friends from People's Songs, a radical booking agency, and Sing Out!, the folksong magazine, seemed...distrustful of the Weavers' newfound success...They believed that [they]...had sold out their principles for popular success...The Weavers...stopped attending trade union potlucks...When Mother Bloor...keeled over in August 1951, the Weavers didn't even bother to send flowers...It was pretty clear that the Weavers were avoiding their former haunts..."

And as Dick Weissman recalled in his 2010 book Talkin' `Bout A Revolution: Music and Social Change in America

"...Gordon Jenkins, an arranger-producer at Decca Records, loved the group and signed them to the label. Between 1950 and 1952 they sold over 4 million records. One of their major hits was Lead Belly's song `Goodnight Irene.' The group shared composer credits with Huddie Ledbetter on `Kisses Sweeter Than Wine,' reworking his adaptation of an Irish melody into the song...

"...The Weavers' managers tried to keep them from performing at radical rallies, or having any direct associations with radical movements...It would have been difficult for conservatives to object to the content of the Weavers' Decca recordings. `On Top of Old Smokey" was a traditional English-American love ballad, `Goodnight Irene' was a sad song about an unfortunate love affair...The Weavers were scolded by the left; Irwin Silber, who was now running People;s Artists, criticized the group in the magazine Sing Out! for not having any black members when they performed so much African American music...The Weavers were listed as communists in Counterattack and Red Channels, two publications run by three ex-FBI agents...As a result of these listings, the Weavers began to lose bookings, a prospective television show disappeared, and Decca Records cancelled their record deal..."

A month after the U.S. military intervention in Korea's civil war began in late June 1950, the Weavers found that their Decca record version of a pro-Zionist movement folk song, "Tzena, Tzena", and their version of Lead Belly's "Goodnight Irene" folk song were among the ten hit records that were being played by U.S. commercial radio station DJs and on U.S. commercial jukeboxes; and by August 5, 1950, while U.S. military intervention in Korea escalated, the Weavers' "Goodnight Irene" record was number 2 on Billboard magazine's hit record chart at the same time the Weavers' "Tzena, Tzena" record was still number 4 on Billboard magazine's hit record chart.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Nine More Quotes From Protest Folk Singer Woody Guthrie

In his 1939 "Woody Sez" column, which he wrote for The People's World newspaper, the mid-20th-century U.S. protest folk songwriter Woody Guthrie wrote the following:

1.  "...I carve here what I wood say is the key secret of the art and science of writing.

"Just decide what you want to write about. Then you decide why you want to write about it.

"Then you climb gently and sweetly up to your paper, and with pen, pencil or typewriter thoroughly cocked and primed...just go ahead an' WRITE IT..."

2.  "...In gettin' acquainted with you readers of The People's World, I ain't got much to say. The reason I ain't got much to say is because I've been a tryin' to rite about myself, an' when a feller is a tryin' to talk about his self, he'd might just as well say nothin'..."

3.  "...I play the guitar and am what is known as a Magical Singer, in as much as I fool the audience completely. I keep them guessing all during the show--why the devil they bought a ticket..."

4.  "Two kinds of Newspapers in the world. A fellow told me the other day that he liked to read his papers before he had breakfast. That's one kind.

"Another kind is for you to read when you ain't got no breakfast, a paper that tells you who's got your breakfast..."

5.  "As long as a nation is run by, of, and for the Workin' People, you got Progress.

"As long as a nation is run by Money Rule, you got rotten politicians, rotten banks, rotten crops, rotten clothing, rotten gangsters, and rotten ever thing..."

6.  "Workers of the world, it's either Unite or Untie, they both spell the same, but they's a whale of a difference...:

7.  "I made ever thing except money an lost ever thing but my debts.

"I ain't a communist necessarily, but I have been in the Red all my life..."

8.  "...Find out who is causing the Trouble here in this old world--remove the Power from their hands--place it in the hands of those who ain't Greedy--and you can rool over and go to sleep..."

9.   "WAR is game played by maniacs who kill each other.

"It is murder, studied, prepared and planned by insane minds, and followed by a bunch of thieves.

"You can't believe in life, and wear the uniform of death...

"  Locate the man who profits by war and strip him of his profits--war will end..."

Monday, October 31, 2016

Why Did Bob Dylan Shift From Protest Folk Music To Commercial Folk Rock Music In 1965?

According to David Hadju's 2001 book, Positively 4th Street: The Life and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Farnia and Richard Farina:

"...Highway 61 Revisited was...Dylan's best-selling album by far, his first to reach a spot as high as number three on the Billboard album chart. `His move into that music just seemed so calculated,' said Geoff Muldaur. `It just seemed to me like he decided, "Okay, now I'm going to be a rock and roll star and sell a lot of records."'"

An examination in the Billboard magazine archives of the 1965 issues seems to indicate that during the then-24-year-old Dylan's May 1965 tour of England, his "Subterranean Homesick Blues" song (which some have claimed was derived, somewhat, from Chuck Berry's "Too Much Monkey Business" song) reached number 6 on the Brit charts. And during that same month, the Byrds' folk-rock version of Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man" song was also rising in the United States near to the top of Billboard's U.S. single record hit charts by early June 1965.

So on June 21, 1965 then-Columbia University Trustee William Paley and then-Columbia University Trustee and then-Institute for Defense Analyses [IDA] Executive Committee Member William A.M. Burden's CBS/Columbia Records corporate media conglomerate announced that it was going to spend money on a special Bob Dylan "singing his own songs" promotional campaign (which may have helped,perhaps, generate some of the additional "Dylanmania" that developed among U.S. teenage rock fans in mid-1965, in addition to what was generated by Dylan's "Like A Rolling Stone" folk rock song).

Yet on July 28, 1965 Pete Seeger wrote, in a memo to himself, the following reference to Dylan's artistic shift from protest folk music to an apparently more commercially successful, hip capitalist folk rock musical direction:

"It isn't pretty to see a corpse--man or beast...

"I knew that last week at Newport, I ran to hide my eyes and ears because I could not bear either the screaming of the crowd nor some of the most destructive music this side of Hell. Bob Dylan, the frail, restless, homeless kid who came to New York in '61 was now the frail, restless, homeless star on the stage.

"When we see a flaming streak across the sky, we all exclaim, though the light has died before the echo of our voices. But I am glad I saw this shooting star...The songs Bob wrote in 1962 and 1963 will be sung for many a year...

"...What is the reason for the change--I don't know. A girl gone perhaps. A manager come. The claws of fame. Or was he killed with kindness?..."   

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Woody Guthrie's Post-1950's FBI File Revisited--Part 2

In a July 15, 1946 letter, Woody Guthrie wrote the following:


“I think that I have proved that a folk singer, to sing best what the people have thought and are thinking, is forced to turn his back on the bids of Broadway and Hollywood to buy him and his talents out. I feel like my work in this field will someday be seen as the most radical, the most militant, and the most topical of them all…

“Every folk song that I know tells how to fix some things in this world to make it better, tells what is wrong with it, and what we’ve got to do to fix it better. If the song does not do this, then, it is no more of a folk song than I am a movie scout…

“When you ask yourself which of the so-called folk singers live up to the real name, you can cross lots of their names entirely off of your list…Ask yourself, does the singer, (artist or poet), take part in the fight to win a better world for the worker? There is only one big fight with a million and one legs to it, the fight of the worker to win his fair share from his owner (boss, etc.). The more the owners allow a singer to be heard around, the less he can sing the tale of the worker’s fight. Before your voice can be heard or your face fotographed, you must actually turn into a weapon of the owner against the workers. I know from a hundred cases of my own experience that any work of protest, fight, militance or plan for the worker, was blue penciled, and censored a dozen times. Any word that was too true, too strong, or too loud in criticizing the world owned by the big boss was scratched out by several hands under a thousand reasons.”

Coincidentally, among the pages contained in Woody Guthrie’s declassified post-1950s FBI file (#100-29988) is an April 10, 1951 memorandum from the FBI’s New York City office to the FBI Director on the subject “Woodrow Wilson Guthrie, Security Matter,” which states that “It is recommended that a Security Index Card be prepared on the above captioned individual.” This April 1951 document also categorizes Woody as “Communist,” indicates that “49 Murdock Court, Brooklyn, NY” is now Woody’s residence address and lists Woody’s “business address” as “Free Lance Folk Singer.”

For more information about Woody Guthrie’s historical contribution to U.S. musical history, you can check out the official Woody Guthrie site at www.woodyguthrie.org.



Friday, September 30, 2016

Woody Guthrie's Post-1950's FBI File Revisited--Part 1

In a July 15, 1946 letter, Woody Guthrie wrote the following:


“It is not just a question of you, as an artist, selling out, and becoming harmless to the owning side. No, you are never actually bought nor bribed till they have decided that they can use you in one way or another to rob, to deceive, to blind, confuse, to misrepresent, or just to harass, worry, bedevil, and becloud the path of the militant worker on his long hard fight from slavery to freedom. Your art helps to preserve, to prolong, to keep alive, and to glorify the essences and the principles of the owning, ruling side. If your art did not add new life to their side, kid not yourself, they would certainly never shake your hand and drop their bloody money down into your lap. And it is the highest form of your owner’s joy when he buys you out from the union side (where you) have spent several years of your life getting people to follow, to hear, or to stand for a while and listen to what you have to say, or to live their lives in spirit and in action in the way that you lived your own. This makes you worth lots more to your owner…

“This is the bad part of a capitalist system, this dog eat dog, this spying, tracing, tracking and trailing after one another always under the covers of night and the shades and shadows of day…This is the system which the owners would like to prolong, to keep alive, to prolong as long as they possibly can, because in the wild blindness of it all, they get all of us to fighting against one another, and rob us coming in the fields of production, and going, in the realm of distribution. This is the system I would like to see die out. It killed several members of my family, it gassed several and shell shocked several more in the last world war, and in this world war just past, it scattered lots more. It drove families of my relatives and friends by the hundreds of thousands to wander more homeless than dogs and to live less welcome than hogs, sheep, or cattle. This is the system I started out to expose by every conceivable way that I could think of with songs and with ballads, and even with poems, stories, newspaper articles, even by humor, by fun, by nonsense, ridicule and by any other way that I could lay hold on.”

Coincidentally, among the pages contained in Woody Guthrie’s declassified post-1950s FBI file (100-29988-5,6,7,8) is a June 2, 1950 memorandum sent to the FBI Director by the FBI’s Los Angeles office on the subject “Woodrow Wilson Guthrie, Woody Guthrie, Security Matter,” which states:

“Re: El Paso letter to New York dated 2-15-50 in captioned matter, report of Special Agent [censored] dated 4-30-50 at Los Angeles entitled `Factionalists Sabotage Group,’ Internal Security-C:

“On April 18, 1950 CNDI [censored] identified a photograph of GUTHRIE as being the individual to whom he had previously referred to as (WOODY), and who was a member of the Factionalist Sabotage Group. According to CNDI [censored] GUTHRIE from approximatelyApril 15, 1950 to May 15, 1950 resided at the home of [censored] Los Angeles, California, and an individual who has also been identified as a member of the above group.

“On May 15, 1950 CNDI [censored] ascertained that GUTHRIE left Los Angeles on that date and on May 18, 1950 CNDI [censored] was advised by [censored] that GUTHRIE was in El Paso, Texas where he would contact his children and former wife. Reference telbu reflects that GUTHRIE’s children resided at 4002 Bliss Street, El Paso, Texas.

“For the information of the El Paso office CNDIS [censored] have furnished this office since [censored] with information concerning a group of approximately thirty men and women, some veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and expelled Communist Party members who are regularly meeting in Los Angeles. According to [censored]this group has a headquarters in Mexico City, Mexico, and one of the group [censored], known to your office, left Los Angeles in December 1949 to work in this headquarters; her residence has been verified in Cuernevaca, Mexico.

“The [censored] of this group, [censored] has advised CNDI [censored]that the ultimate purpose of this group is sabotage against the United States during war with Russia and has outlined to him group policy in recruitment, method of operation, publications, finances, and has advised the informant that his group has a direct contact with the `Comintern.’

“By letter dated May 15, 1950 in the referenced matter the Bureau requested that individual investigations be opened concerning members of this group and security index cards be considered.

“El Paso is requested to verify the residence of the subject in El Paso through [censored], El Paso County Court House, El Paso, Texas, it being noted that [censored] has previously furnished your office with information regarding GUTHRIE.

“Upon receipt of this verification, Los Angeles will submit a RUC report covering GUTHRIE’s activities known to this office.”

And a July 21, 1950 memorandum to the FBI Director from the FBI’s Los Angeles office on the same subject states:

“Rebutel dated July 14, 1950, entitled `FACTIONALIST SABOTAGE GROUP, INTERNAL SECURITY C ‘Bufile 100-369268’…

“CNDI [censored] on July 4, 1950, advised he had ascertained from[censored], also a member of the referenced group, that the subject was presently residing at 3520 Mermaid Avenue, Brooklyn 24, New York.

“A pending report setting out leads to verify the subject’s residence in New York is presently being transcribed and will be forwarded to the New York and El Paso Offices at an early date.”

Also included in Woody Guthrie’s declassified post-1950’s FBI file is an August 3, 1950 document summarizing the articles that appeared in the left-wing Daily People’s World in 1948 and 1949 that either mentioned Woody or were written by Woody; and which states that “T-1 advised that he specifically recalls Guthrie having attended” six political meetings between March 26, 1950 and May 6, 1950 that were held at 932 or 932 ½ North Lucile Ave. in Los Angeles. Yet this August 3, 1950 admits that “[censored] Guthrie [censored] advised that he personally has never, [censored] made any statement relative to sabotage…”

For more information about Woody Guthrie’s life and work, you can check out the official Woody Guthrie site at www.woodyguthrie.org .



Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Woody Guthrie's FBI File Revisited--Part 2

In a July 15, 1946 letter, Woody Guthrie wrote the following:


“I have decided, long ago, that my songs and ballads would not get the hugs and kisses of the capitalistic `experts,’ simply because I believe that the real folk history of this country finds its center and its hub in the fight of the union members against the hired gun thugs of the big owners. It is for this reason I have never really, sincerely, expected nor dimly prayed, nor hoped for a single solitary minute for a penny’s worth of help from the hand of our landlord and ruler….
“To the big owners, an artist of any note or fame, that can be said to work or fight over on the union side, is classed by the big boys as a soldier, a technical, or an artistic captain or a general. The money paid to clip off working class artists may start at a measley Ten or Fifteen Thousand, and run up very quick to the sum of, A Hundred, Two Hundred Thousand, or a Half Million long greens. (This is no money at all to the big handlers that toss bales of money back and forth across their tables to the tune of a Million, a Billion, or more, Dollars)….
“It is not only a question of buying you and your art out of circulation, to keep you from stirring up your people against their blind owners; it is, lots of times a question of blocking your hand on every side, or causing you to get all lost and tangled up in a thousand traps of their psychological, emotional, economical, legal and illegal sorts of personal warfare. This will take the form of bribery, social disgrace, exposes’, running down your work, discouraging your talents, and insulting you on every turn.”
Coincidentally, among the 55 pages contained in Woody Guthrie’s de-classified FBI file (100-29988-5) is a July 15, 1943 Memorandum for E.A. Tamm, regarding “Department of Agriculture Nationwide Production `It’s Up To You’,” from D. M. Ladd of the FBI which states:

“I am attaching a program of the production `It’s Up To You,’ which was staged at the Department of Agriculture Auditorium in Washington, D.C. for a ten day period commencing on June 22, 1943. The production was attended by Special Agent [censored] and because of the tenor of the production Agent [censored] checked the Bureau file and ascertained that the following named individuals connected with the production of this show are either closely associated with the Communist Party or members thereof: Earl Robinson, Woody Guthrie…

“…In November, 1942 the Baltimore Field Office reported that through the medium of a confidential informant it was learned that a mass meeting was held at the negro Elk’s Hall in Baltimore, on which occasion the speakers were James Ford, an official of the Communist Party, USA, and Woody Guthrie. Guthrie is identified as having associated with one John R. Forrest, a song writer…Forrest is the subject of a Bureau file and is closely associated with Communist and Communist infiltrated groups in and around Los Angeles, California. Guthrie has been a resident of both New York City and Los Angeles.”
For more information about Woody Guthrie’s life and his historical impact on U.S. cultural life, you can check out the official Woody Guthrie website at www.woodyguthrie.org  



Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Woody Guthrie's FBI File Revisited--Part 1

In a July 15, 1946 letter, Woody Guthrie wrote the following:


“I have never sung nor made songs just to entertain the upper classes, but to curse their clawing, reckless racketeers, and to warn the nervous ones that live and die by greed....

“Not all of us folk and ballad makers and singers stand where I stand. Not all of them see the world as I see it. Some would rather be a `character’ and to be fotographed and filmed, broadcast and recorded, and paid big money by the big money side. They would rather occupy a certain social position, to be well known, to play the game of publicity gangsters and to enjoy the crowds that clap and yell when you tell them directly or indirectly that this old world is okie dokie, she is all right, she is a nice good place to live on, and if you kick or argue, or make too much noise with your mouth, then you are just a native barnkicker, and a griper, and you are kicked out by your own inability to `cooperate’ with the high moguls…

“If your work gets to be labeled as communist or even as communistic or even as radically leaning in the general direction of bolshevism, then, of course, you are black balled, black listed, chalked up as a revolutionary bomb thrower, and you invite the whole weight of the capitalist machine to be thrown against you…”

Coincidentally, among the 55 pages in Woody Guthrie’s de-classified FBI file [100-29988] , is a July 18, 1941 “Memorandum to Mr. Matthew F. McGuire, The Assistant to the Attorney General” from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover which states:

“From a confidential source, information has been furnished this Bureau that one Woodrow W. Guthrie, who is employed by the Department of the Interior, is allegedly a member of the Communist Party. This individual is reported as being at the present time on the West Coast, engaged in the making of a motion picture for the Department of the Interior…”

Also contained in Woody Guthrie’s de-classified FBI file is an October 17, 1941 letter to the “Special Agent in Charge, San Francisco, California” from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, “Re: Woodrow W. Guthrie, Internal Security”, which states:

“…Guthrie is no longer an employee of another Governmental agency and in the event the files of your field division reflect the desirability of conducting an investigation into his activities and sympathies in order to determine whether they are inimical to the best interests of this Government you are at liberty to do so.”



Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Revisiting Ireland's Protest Folk and Rebel Songs--Part 1

Centuries before some commercially-motivated professional songwriters, professional entertainers and global media conglomerate record companies began to make a lot of money in the late 1950's and 1960's from selling vinyl records of commercial pop protest songs to a mass audience of consumers, non-commercially-motivated and nationally oppressed people in Ireland were writing--either individually or collectively--topical protest folk songs and Irish rebel songs. As Patrick Galvin noted in his 1950's book, Irish Songs of Resistance (1169-1923):

"...The vast bulk of Irish songs...are either anonymous reports of actual events, or else epic appeals to nationhood and love of liberty, composed by men of letters and other public figures, and universally known and sung all over the country...

"The Irish people have kept these songs alive because they represented and expressed the people's own powerful and legitimate emotions and desires. At the same time, the songs helped to direct and canalize action in support of those desires...

"Since the history of Ireland is largely that of some 800 years of resistance to invasion, annexation, absorption, settlement, enclosure, oppression and exploitation by England, Ireland's songs sound a continual note of resistance...

"...The great bulk of the national ballads (in the English language) date from the 19th-century, and above all from the mid-19th-century...

"Almost all Irish national songs since the 1840's...are composed poems...containing many allusions to past battles, rebellions, heroes and traitors, intended for singing to traditional airs or popular melodies...

(end of part 1)



Sunday, September 4, 2016

Revisiting 19th-Century Yiddish Protest Folk Songs of Russia



Long before some commercially-motivated professional songwriters, professional entertainers and corporate media conglomerate record companies started to make a lot of money by marketing vinyl records of pop topical protest songs in late 1950's and 1960's, some non-commercially-motivated folks in Eastern Europe and Russia were--either individually or collectively--writing and singing topical protest folk songs in the Yiddish language. As Ruth Rubin recalled in her 1963 book, Voices of a People: The Story of Yiddish Folksong:

"The second half of the nineteenth century saw the development of capitalism in Russia. With the rapid growth of industry in such large Jewish centers as Lodz, Warsaw, Bialystok,Vilna, Pinsk, and Odessa, new songs were created by the former workshop hands now turned factory workers...

"As they described the horrible working conditions which prevailed, some of the songs took on a tone of protest and even a call to workingmen to rally in their own interests...

"These were songs which summoned the people to meetings and kept time with marching feet during demonstrations...

"...Workers were compelled to meet and deliberate in secret, and there were songs which described such clandestine gatherings...

"...Didactic folk songs dealing with political matters were common...These agitational folk songs seek to teach...certain principles...

"...The political songs which were current during the Russo-Japanese war, mainly in the cities and large towns,...tied in with the songs of the Russian Revolution of 1905...

"...Workingmen and women marched together, fought together, and died together on the barricades of the 1905 Revolution, singing...The 1905 Revolution was crushed. Songs of imprisonment now increased in number...

"The topical songs of the end-of-the-century period enjoyed the widest dissemination among the people...

"...Before the 1905 Russian Revolution, social...protest was already part of anonymous folk songs current among working men and women..." 

Yiddish lyrics that are translated into English in Ruth Rubin's 1963 book indicated that the following protest sentiments were expressed in these non-commercially-motivated Yiddish topical protest folk songs:

1. "...Want, misery, all your life
Dying prematurely;
Oh, how long will you be patient,
Poor workingmen!"

2.  "When poverty ruled my blood...
The capitalists sucked my blood..."

3.  "Cease your slumbering, sisters and brothers,
Awake! Unite!
Quickly, quickly, without any noise,
See to it that all men are equal..."

4. "In the far-off land Siberia
...I was exiled there, for shouting
The one word--freedom.
With the knout they beat me,
To make me stop saying:
Greetings to freedom!
Down with Nicholas!"

5.  "A dark cloud in the sky
Has spread all over Russia
There's shouting and a noise,
That Russia must be set free.

"All the streets are seething
There's a great cry in the air
Of thousands of working masses;
Down with Czar Nicholas!"

6.  "...Come bravely to free yourselves...
...Everyone, quickly, to the barricade,
Brother, quickly, come out with arms,
Don't stand there, unite, comrades..."

and 7.  "We sit in jail fainting
With hunger and cold...
All for freedom,
We are tortured,
Punished and deprived,
We're fighting for freedom,
We must defeat
The Czarist might..."

The late 19th-century Yiddish topical protest folk song "Der Arbeiter/The Working Man" by David Edelshtat also contained the following lyrics:

"Workingmen, how long will you remain isolated from your brothers
Arise and put an end to the overseer."

And the following last words that were uttered by a Vilna shoemaker named Hirsh Lekert, prior to being hanged by Czarist government authorities on May 29, 1902, provided some of the lyrics for the Yiddish topical protest folk songs about the hanging that were written--either individually or collectively--by non-commercially-motivated writers in the first years of the 20th-century:

"Oh, I am now about to be hung
And can do nothing more about it--
I beg of you, my beloved brothers,
Take vengeance of the tyrant nation.

"Oh, the rope that is put around my neck,
Does not frighten me--
I beg of you, my beloved brother,
To sing a song about me." 




Saturday, September 3, 2016

Revisiting `Sing' Magazine's 1954 Issues

During the McCarthy Era in the United States, a magazine that encouraged the writing of non-commercially-motivated topical protest folk songs, Sing magazine, began publishing in May 1954. In their first editorial, its editors--Eric Winter and John Hasted--wrote that the magazine's goal was to distribute "as widely as possible" the "songs which are produced in the course of...struggle for a better life" and that Sing "will always seek to work in the closest harmony" with the UK's Workers' Music Association, that had been founded in 1936.

Among the non-commercial topical protest folk songs that were published in Sing magazine's four issues of 1954, that were apparently not heard as much by U.S. corporate radio station listeners during the 1950's as were the commercial pop songs sung by Elvis Presley and The Kingston Trio, were non-commercial topical protest folk songs with the following titles:

1. "The Atom Bomb and the Hydrogen" (by Leon Fung);

2. "Talking Rearmament" (by John Hasted);

3. "The Ballad of Jomo Kenyatta" (by Johnny Ambrose);

4. "The Rosenbergs Were Murdered" (by Eric Winter and John Hasted);

5. "In Contempt" (by Aaron Kramer and Betty Sanders);

6. "Ghost Soldiers" (by an anonymous African-American soldier);

7. "Johnson's Motorcar";

8. "When Asia Came to Geneva: A Tribute to Chou En Lai" (by John Hasted);

9. "Ballad of Ho Chi Minh" (by Ewan MacColl);

10. "The Dove" (adaptation by Ewan MacColl);

11. "Conscripts Forward!" (by John Hasted);

12. "It's Only Propaganda" (by Ewan MacColl); and

13. "Where, O Where Is Our James Connolly".

Among the editorials and articles published in Sing magazine's 1954 issues were the following:

1. An editorial titled "Ban the Bomb";

2. An editorial titled "The Rosenbergs Were Murdered"; and

3. An article by Patrick Galvin, titled "Songs of the Easter Rising."



Friday, September 2, 2016

Non-Commercial Topical Protest Folk Songs vs. Commercial Pop Protest Songs

Non-commercially-motivated people who have felt enslaved, oppressed or economically exploited have always--either individually or collectively--created public domain, topical folk songs that protest against the System that enslaves, oppresses or exploits us. And non-commercially-motivated people--either individually or collectively--have always written public domain, topical protest folk songs that urge those who sing or listen to these non-commercial protest folk songs to collectively revolt and make a political, economic and social revolution.

Some commercially-motivated songwriters, professional entertainers and global corporate media conglomerates, however, sometimes made a lot of money by writing, singing or marketing some privatized/copyrighted topical protest songs to a mass audience of vinyl record or cd consumers in the 20th-century.

Yet despite the commercial success of some of the commercially-motivated individual professional songwriters and entertainers--who capitalized on the global corporate media conglomerates' transformation of some topical protest songs into commodities--most people on earth in the 21st-century are still enslaved, oppressed or economically exploited by the System.

Protest Folk Magazine believes, however, that a topical protest folk song should be a public domain tool for creating revolutionary social change--and not just an additional way for professional songwriters, professional entertainers or global media conglomerates to make a lot of money in the 21st-century, while most of us folk on earth continue to live in poverty, under the System's current global economic set-up.