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..."