Where Have All the Songwriters Gone?

Music has many functions, worship included. But one of its primary roles is its ability to move people. It’s not surprising that many of the great social movements of this century have included memorable songs—tunes with a beat and a message that drawfolks into a broader vision and a confidence to work for change.

The music of the labor movement has provided much of the dynamism for itself and other movements (see "From the Church to the Union Hall," September-October, 1996). The Smithsonian has captured on its Folkways label the power of labor songs on the 1990 CD Don’t Mourn—Organize! Songs of Labor Songwriter Joe Hill. Included on this recording are a number of songs by Joe Hill ("The White Slave" and "There is Power in a Union") and about him (Phil Och’s "Joe Hill" and "Joe Hill Listens to the Praying," by Kenneth Patchen). Paul Robeson’s powerful voice on "Joe Hill" is especially memorable, as is Utah Phillips’ "Joe Hill’s Last Will." This recording is a powerful witness to the strength of workers united, and to their resilience in the face of corporate power. As the liner notes indicate, by the end of listening to this CD, you will feel like you know Joe Hill.

Pete Seeger has long been a stalwart in the movements for the common good. (He contributed "Casey Jones—The Union Scab" to Don’t Mourn.) He has become a motivating force, as well as a symbol, to the movements, as can be experienced by listening to the recent release Where Have All the Flowers Gone: The Songs of Pete Seeger (Appleseed Recordings, 1998).

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 1998
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