Sunday, April 21, 2019

`We Shall Overcome! Songs of the Southern Freedom Movement' 1963 Introduction: An Excerpt

In 1963, the introduction to the We Shall Overcome! Songs of the Southern Freedom Movement songbook (that was compiled by Guy and Candie Carawan for SNCC and published by Moe Asch's Oak Publications) indicated how non-commercially-motivated Freedom Movement protest folk songs, that working-class people of various racial backgrounds and Movement activist/organizers collectively created in 20th century, differ from most of the commercially-motivated pop songs that get played on corporate media conglomerate radio and television station programs in 21st-century, in the following way:

"Freedom songs today are sung in many kinds of situations: at mass meetings, prayer vigils, demonstrations, before Freedom Rides and Sit-Ins, in paddy wagons and jails, at conferences, work-shops and informal gatherings. They are sung to bolster spirits, to gain new courage and to increase the sense of unity...

"The freedom songs are of many kinds and range through many moods. The important ones are the old, slow-paced spirituals and hymns (some in the minor mode) that sing of hope and determination, and, the rhythmic jubilee spirituals and bright gospel songs that protest boldly and celebrate eventual victory. These are in the majority and usually have new or revised words to old tunes...Finally, there is a small miscellany of songs imported from the north, including a couple of revised union songs and a handful of newly adapted folk songs. These have come from exchange students, freedom riders, folk singers and hit records...The students have been responsible for making up most of the new lyrics and singing new life into the old songs...

"...No other songs have been able to express so closely the feelings of the participants or have been so easily adapted to fit current situations as some of the old spirituals. When sung with anything approximating the old time style and spirit, they are unbeatable..."

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Irwin Silber's 1966 Foreward To `Hard Hitting Songs for Hard-Hit People' Book: An Excerpt

In 1966 Sing-Out! folk music magazine editor Irwin Silber wrote the following about the Hard Hitting Songs for Hard-Hit People book, whose text Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and Alan Lomax first put together in the early 1940's, that was finally published in book form by Moe Asch's Oak Publications in 1967:

"...This book is all about--the despair, the struggle, and the dreams of the working people of the United expressed through the songs the people themselves made up and sang.

"There aren't many professional song-writers represented in these pages. Mostly, the writers and composers, where we know their names, are people like Aunt Molly Jackson, Jim Garland, Ella Mae Wiggins, Sara Ogan, John Handcox. Or blues singers like Blind Lemon Jefferson, Big Bill Broonzy, Tampa Red. For these and all the anonymous picket-line poets of the time, there was no intellectual problem of `commitment' or whether or not `protest' was `art.' When you sing because your life depends upon it, when you sing out of the very bowels of your being with a scream of anguish or when you sing out with a yell that demands and proclaims and asserts your rights as a man or a woman and as a human being--when you sing this way, where the song is an extension of your own life as it is inter-connected with the lives of others, there is no need to weigh the advisability or artistic worth of songs of protest..."

Thursday, April 4, 2019

John Steinbeck's Foreward To Text of `Hard Hitting Songs for Hard-Hit People' Book: An Excerpt

`Grapes of Wrath' Author John Steinbeck
In the early 1940's, the novelist who wrote The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck, also wrote the following about the protest folk songs created by U.S. working-class people and about 20th-century protest folk singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie; in a Foreward to the early 1940's text of Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and Alan Lomax's Hard Hitting Songs for Hard-Hit People book:

"The songs of the working people have always been their sharpest statement...Working people sing of their hopes and of their troubles...You can learn more about people by listening to their songs than in any other way, for into their songs go all the hopes, and hurts, the angers, fears, the wants and aspirations...

"Woody is just Woody...He is just a voice and a guitar...There is nothing sweet about the songs he sings. But there is something more important for those who will listen. There is the will of a people to endure and fight against oppression..."