US-American folk music and its political stances from the great depression to the present

Examination Thesis, 2008

126 Pages, Grade: 1,5


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. From the Great Depression to the Second World War
2.1 The Depression and its Consequences: Workers’ Music
2.2 Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger for the People
2.2.1 “This Land Was Made for You and Me”: Guthrie’s Political Songwriting and Legacy
2.2.2 America’s “Tuning Fork”: Seeger and the Use of Folk Music as a Political Instrument
2.2.3 The Almanac Singers

3. The Folk Revival in its Full Scope: From the Post-War Period to Woodstock
3.1 Folk Music at the Break of Dawn of the Cold War
3.2 The Sixties Take Shape: Political Motion in Society and Folk Music
3.2.1 “We Are Not Afraid”: Blacks and Whites Moving for Civil Rights
3.2.2 Folk Music and the Peace Movement in Songs
3.2.3 Bob Dylan

4. From Woodstock to the Present: Losing and Rediscovering Political Engagement
4.1 Righteous Babe Ani DiFranco
4.2 “The Day that America Fell to its Knees”: Folk Music in response to 9/11

5. Conclusion



1. Introduction

Every country has a certain heritage of folklore. According to William John Thomas, who is supposed to have coined the term in 1846, folklore includes music as well as customs, clothing, stories, proverbs, jokes and the like.[1] In the United States, this folklore is primarily based on what European immigrants brought to their new residence. The influence of Scottish and Irish folk, for example, is still palpable, despite the fact that folk music in America has developed an idiosyncratic sound.

Tibbe and Bonson remark that the different genres of music are always connected to a specific social group and thus have a meaning that influences the perspective on society and politics significantly. The social role and category of folk music are explained as follows:

Eine … Eigenschaft der Volksmusik ist diejenige, daß sie keineswegs die Musik der gesamten Bevölkerung ist, sondern die der unteren, beherrschten Schichten. … Auch im Hinblick auf diese Eigenschaft wird deutlich, wie sehr die Volksmusik mit der jeweiligen geschichtlichen Situation zusammenhängt: Während der relativ ruhigen Zeit des frühen Feudalismus war sie anders als zu [sic] Zeit der Bauernkriege oder gar in der Zeit des revolutionierenden Proletariats. Träger der Volksmusik sind also im Laufe der Geschichte u. a. Sklaven, Leibeigene, Bauern, Handwerker, Soldaten, Arbeiter.[2]

Reuss and Reuss confirm this by stating that “folklore is used as a cohesive force to maintain and reinforce social institutions, including the structure of government.”[3] Considering this and the social status of the groups listed by Tibbe and Bonson, it is reasonable that the notion of folk music can easily be connected to political and social criticism – and it has been indeed. Protest songs have been written for many centuries, and the United States are no exception: The different historical periods that are covered by this paper all showed a certain output of topical songs – songs that include or respond to current social grievances in order to establish a constructive criticism and thus to raise awareness of the fact that there is another way of coping besides mute toleration. However, folk music does not scorn patriotism and pride; within the political path of folk music, it is not exclusively critical stances that are reflected upon. The greater part, as will be shown in this paper, nonetheless is – even though patriotism and criticism might be united in one song, a tendency especially to be observed in songs released after 9/11. This is not to say that, apart from political matters, no other topics are covered by folk musicians: According to Alan Lomax, an American ethnomusicologist, folk song is an art

which lives upon the lips of the multitude and is transmitted by the grapevine, surviving sometimes for centuries because it reflects so well the deepest emotional convictions of the common man. This is a truly democratic art, painting a portrait of the people.[4]

Thus, the personal is a fundamental aspect of folk music as well, as has been shown by all the musicians that play a part in this paper.

In the period covered, American folk music had a significant effect on the developments in popular music, political movements and social progress, which was acknowledged by many and scorned by relatively few. Charles Seeger, one of North America’s most influential musicologists of the twentieth century and father of Pete Seeger, put the importance of folk music for the American people as follows: “The musical soul of America is in its folk music, not in its academic music; and only in its popular music to the extent popular music has borrowed, stolen and manhandled folk”.[5] This might just as well hold true for many, if not all, other nations; moreover, to depict or to render the soul of a people is one of the aims of folk music – in fact, of folk culture in general. It did no harm to the art of this music that not only new songs were written, but old ones were also rewritten, worked on and changed severely, which led to the typical practice of miscellaneous interpretation that was legally uncomplicated and widely used at least until the sixties.

Charles Seeger was a chief witness and – through his research in the field – one of the midwives, as it were, of the folk revival. His claim of folk music being the vital part of popular music, its “soul”, has been extended. This much is certain: Folk music has changed through the years, and so have the notions and practices connected to it. The characteristics of this music were investigated by many, including Charles Seeger’s wife, the musicologist Ruth Crawford Seeger in her work The Music of American Folk Song (1941). Moreover, there are widespread “naive” ideas about the nature of folk music, some of them plain and not doing justice to the factual complexity inherent in it. Ani DiFranco, playing an active part in the folk community since the late eighties, answers to one aspect of the common understanding of folk:

Folk music is not an acoustic guitar – that’s not where the heart of it is. … I use the word folk in reference to punk music and to rap music. It’s an attitude, it’s an awareness of one’s heritage, and it’s a community. It’s subcorporate music that gives voice to different communities and their struggle against authority."[6]

DiFranco’s utterance depicts plainly what folk music was defined by from its beginning, and it bears resemblance to the conviction of other folksingers who have believed in the power of the community and of their country’s tradition. Her political commitment also stands in line with her musical ancestors, many of whom had fought for a political awareness of the American people. When Irwin Silber, editor of the key folk magazine Sing Out! since the early fifties, became conscious of a developing complacency in the readership, he tried to save the reputation and influence of folk associated with political concerns when he realised that the “identification of folk music and social conscience annoys some modern-day hippies who seem to think that commitment is square and political awareness naive.”[7] In fact, he was proved wrong: Both the anti-war and the civil rights movement, borne mainly by the young and not to be underestimated, employed a wide usage of songs for encouragement and underpinning of their message.

This paper tries to give an account of the critical stances of folk music that have arisen from the 1930s up to the present in order to illustrate the correlation that exists between the vast and sometimes intangible field of politics and the fine arts. It needs to be found out what directions the political side of folk music has taken, in terms of the content of songs as well as the personal activism of artists. Both aspects are always closely connected, and thus have to be considered likewise. In connection to that, the question of how musicians have tried to influence political developments and how political events and circumstances have directly influenced the musicians’ work is also relevant. Furthermore, in order to understand the full impact and effects of the developments, possible links between the periods should be unveiled. This includes the question of how songs treated political opinions – in a subtle, ambiguous way or explicitly – and if a change of practice over the years can be detected.

It is impossible to give credit to all those critical voices that could be heard throughout this time span, therefore the working method has to be a selective one. Crucial developments are taken into consideration, as well as musicians and songs that researchers, the press and the author regard as essential in the progress. Moreover, detailed analyses of political terms and notions cannot be provided. Suffice it to say that political wings in the United States have a slightly different meaning from the ones in Europe; the American Left is not exactly comparable to the one we found in the Soviet Union or the German Democratic Republic, and the similarity has been diminished more and more within the last 75 years.

The Appendix provides the reader with the complete lyrics of the folk songs mentioned if they could be obtained. They are collected in order of appearance to underline the development of content, style and register. The single chapters of the development of the argument are structured content-related as follows.

The second chapter deals with the thirties and the time of the Second World War, depicted mainly by the two musicians that shaped and were to a great deal responsible for the emergence and progress of the folk revival in the United States. Woody Guthrie’s and Pete Seeger’s political activism was a central aspect of their musical careers, albeit harmful at times. The range of topical songs in both their work is wide, and they were connected to leftist politics, Seeger not being afraid of expressing his view in the choice of party membership in 1942, which did not facilitate his commercial success. Guthrie’s role in the oral preservation of popular old folk melodies is immense; he managed to keep them alive in a way that his praised talent of putting words together wittily allowed him and that gave ever new meaning to them – as regards both content and significance. The popularity of the tunes was a supporting factor in their political use: union strikes had an effective pillar in the songs that were adapted to current problems, and people’s knowledge of them made the songs easy to be applied – a decisive criterion of folk, which Seeger understood and made use of in the same way. His impact on folk music has remained enormous until today, which is why the chapter on his songwriting includes the time after the Second World War. Guthrie’s and Seeger’s songs were beams of hope for the workers, survived bans and inspired their heirs – the next generation of “folkies”, sometimes dubbed “Woody’s children”.

Among these, covered in this paper, are some of the folk heroes of the sixties, Bob Dylan, Tom Paxton and Phil Ochs, who are given credit in the third chapter. Especially this decade was significant in the development and progress of folk music, and many more musicians contributed to that than can be mentioned. They all, more or less, provided the nation with songs that supported, inspired and encouraged those who were singing collectively “We Shall Overcome” in order to strengthen their will to struggle for change. Thus, the sixties showed, probably more than any other phase, that political folk music does never merely reveal political stances, but a much more complex pattern including social criticism and appeal to those concerned – a sometimes encoded appeal to social action, which was necessary both in terms of the civil rights movement and the war in Vietnam. When Bob Dylan changed his musical direction from pure folk to what came to be known as folk rock, he also abandoned the political responsibility that his fans and colleagues felt he had, which made many see him as a traitor. Dylan’s reputation suffered as he announced that he would no further see the need to be a political songwriter, and the folk community was hit hard by this loss.

When folk music “died”[8], popular music in general lost something, too – the profound political awareness that had been a spicy ingredient of folk songwriting and that had partly framed its success for many years. This indolence was apparent in the seventies in that lyrics became mostly concerned with the self and aspects of human interaction or the consciousness instead of more universal questions that concerned living in a society. The eighties showed that the folk community had at best fallen asleep, but did not die, as Irwin Silber had feared.

The reawakening of folk and politically concerned musicians triggered what could be called another revival, even if not as groundbreaking and influential as the mid-century one. The fourth chapter deals with this period that lasts until the present, with Ani DiFranco as a significant member of the folk community, although she is not necessarily as internationally famous as, for example, Pete Seeger. The new idea of folk does not seem to embody the necessity for sing-along songs anymore, and with the recording industry having transformed the music business as a whole, it could be argued that folk is not even in need of this nowadays. In addition to that, it is obvious that during the last 30 years a change has taken place in political commitment, its intensity and the way it is expressed or exercised. Accordingly, the practice of using songs in political or social movements the way it was done in the forties or sixties has gone astray, let alone the quality and power of political activism at all.

Some presidents of America have had an indirect impact on songwriting in the twentieth century and beyond insofar as folk musicians have dealt with their politics. Topical songs that involved the disapproval of presidents have not always openly done so, but especially since 9/11 the explicit expression of judgments about George W. Bush’s presidency has become a feature quite frequently employed in songs of many a genre and folk songs have rarely tried to hide their disparagement, as will be shown.

As to the source material, the range of original sources for the period until the eighties is unsatisfactory for a research based in Germany, as most of it is only available in the United States and no access to any such data via the Internet seems possible. Therefore, the quotations used in the paper concerning this time span are mainly derived from secondary sources. In some cases, the original source could only be obtained in a translated form. The Pete Seeger appreciation page on the Internet is an exception, providing newspaper articles of his formative years as a folk musician and presenting his work in a very clearly arranged manner. For the remaining years covered in this paper, the situation is less problematical, as articles, interviews and the like are also available online. So are some articles of the German magazine Folker!, which were used in addition to the print version of younger articles of this source. Folker! offers a relatively small range of detailed contributions to the topic but, being a mouthpiece of the (German) folk community, it is essential in the process of acquiring an authentic glimpse into the issues relevant nowadays.

Several works, altogether from multinational perspectives, have been written about US-American folk music and its connection to society and politics by anthropologists, musicologists, historians and others. Victor Grossman’s If I Had a Song: Lieder und Sänger der USA (1988) is an important work for its informational value, despite the fact that it was published in East Germany just prior to the reunification, which, being written from a socialist perspective, could make it outdated. In this socio-musicological work he presents a broad spectrum of songs that characterised the struggle of progressive forces throughout the history of the United States. Grossman’s strong left-wing angle is indeed dissimilar from his colleagues’, quite a few of whom looked at the progress of folk music in relation to political developments. Ronald D. Cohen’s Rainbow Quest: The Folk Music Revival and American Society, 1940-1970 (2002) and Richard A. and JoAnne C. Reuss’s American Folk Music and Left-Wing Politics, 1927-1957 (2000) both are well-researched and particularly detailed accounts. When We Were Good: The Folk Revival (1996) by Robert Cantwell especially deals with the legacy of folk music in its early days and how it was made use of in the sixties, an aspect of great importance; folk again and again has been redefined and reinterpreted and the “What is folk?” debates confirm the uncertainty of definition that becomes obvious through the study of diverse academic works on folk.[9]

In general, research for the most part either treats only a limited period or has a narrow perspective; besides, the actual significance of song lyrics is often left aside. Probably the largest amount of works about folk music is dedicated to the folk revival; there are only few examples of efforts about the relationship of folk and society in recent decades, outstanding among them is Thomas R. Gruning’s large-scale Millenium Folk: American Folk Music since the Sixties (2006). Moreover, the attacks on the World Trade Center have triggered an interest in the consequences on popular music – for the simple reason that the consideration of politics in reference to 9/11 has become a decisive strand in many genres of popular music. Dietrich Helms and Thomas Phleps in their book 9/11 – The World’s All Out of Tune: Populäre Musik nach dem 11. September (2004) examine the extent to which this development has taken place, considering especially American, but also German and Austrian productions. Taking into account many genres of popular music, the authors, however, fail to present an appropriate picture of the developments in folk music, disregarding the fact that some remarkable contributions have been made by folk musicians.

2. From the Great Depression to the Second World War

The Great Depression with its immediate effects on economical, political and social circumstances of the American people also left a significant mark on folk music. Written or rewritten songs dealt as an important instrument in strengthening the people’s will to survive, to fight for better living conditions and to have their say in social and political matters. In order to become such an instrument, a folk song had to have at least one characteristic: easy imitation. Maurice Sugar, a lawyer from Detroit, is supposed to have created the “Soup Song” in 1931, which fulfilled this attribute. He used the common method of arraying a popular and well-known melody with a new set of words: the tune of “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean” frames cynical lyrics about food shortage and how the government attends – or rather does not attend – its duty to guarantee that the people are able to provide for themselves properly, which is hinted at in the first stanza:

I’m spending my nights at the flophouse, I’m spending my days on the street, I’m looking for work and I find none. I wish I had something to eat. Chorus: Soup, soup, they give me a bowl of soup. Soup, soup, they give me a bowl of soup.[10]

The government was interested in an improvement of the situation to a certain degree; Hoover in his second election campaign promised the singer Rudy Vallee a decoration if he manages to popularize a song that can make people forget the depression.[11] Many tried to accomplish that – not necessarily with aspirations to a decoration. In 1931 a group of American composers, among them Aaron Copland and George Antheil, united in the Workers Music League with the ambitious aim to create persuasive songs that reflect the position of the workers. They believed to have found the key to the success and power of those songs: “Neue ‘Songs of work and protest’ müssen sich, um glaubhaft zu sein, an der Sprache der modernen Musik orientieren”.[12] With referring to ‘modern music’, they aimed at the new school of classical music that Schönberg and Stravinsky represented. It turned out, however, that those songs with a truly lasting effect were folk songs.

A vital part of Roosevelt’s reaction to the situation in the country was the New Deal. It included the preservation of the cultural heritage of America in the form of photography and also in the collection of folklore in the manner of Béla Bartók’s efforts in Europe, searching to “energize the ‘folk’, who were perceived as the country’s moral backbone”.[13] This included tours especially through the South to record folk songs and the collection of the material in the Archive of American Folk Song in the Library of Congress; the two men mainly responsible for that were John Lomax and his son Alan, looking for the “democratic threads that linked Americans”.[14] Through their work, the rural songs of protest became recognized and acknowledged in the North and could thus influence urban songwriting, especially in terms of choosing a political content. The result was an association of folk music with the liberal and the left side.[15]

The field research of the Lomaxes was followed by a renaissance of folk culture that went along with the practice of using old tunes and remodelling them for current purposes. Contemplation of traditionalism was a specific trait of the music that was created. The pride of belonging to the American people was especially reflected in the “Ballad for Americans” (1939), dubbed the “finest piece of American propaganda”[16], and in Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America” (1938), a “quintessentially American song”[17], which was soon to be used by Woody Guthrie as a template for his most famous and enduring song, “This Land Is Your Land”. He and Pete Seeger should become the most influential folk songwriters of the thirties, in their non-personal writing standing for the social stratum that was underprivileged and, in political terms, rather left-wing oriented. “God Bless America” was in more than one way a counterpart to folk music: Musically, it was a product of Tin Pan Alley[18] – the embodiment of the popular music industry and thus rather profit-oriented instead of traditional. As regards content, it did not have the bite of folk tunes that comment on American society by being patriotic but still expressing this love for the country to some extent through revealing its ills.

Guthrie’s and Seeger’s commitment to political issues was strong and essential for them as musicians, being literally a mouthpiece of the folk and expression of their discontent. In retrospect, it is plausible to say that their liaison in the Almanac Singers was beneficial for their creative output. The loose group, with a flux of partaking musicians, was formed in 1941. Their objective was the popularisation and progress of folk music, both in a rather neutral way and with a topical stance, which was underpinned by some members’ connection to the Communist Party. This would later turn the group into a target of the hunt for opposition, in particular due to the tendency to promote radical change. For many, the Almanacs’ significance lay in their ability to catch the image of America and its people, for “America is in their songs”[19], and Theodore Dreiser, a veteran communist actively involved in the folk music scene, remarked vividly after having attended one of their performances: “If we had six more teams like you, we could save America”.[20] The novelty often assigned to them was largely based on their style of living and performing, but especially on the sophistication they brought into folk music through their witty lyrics.

During the thirties, the Communist Party and minor organizations of the kind were interested in the further integration of African Americans into society.[21] Folk music, having been strongly influenced by their styles and traditions, contributed to that process on a smaller scale. Music festivals that included black performers, sometimes even employing black artists only, were an important step in this development. Nevertheless, what was implied with the term ‘folk music’ remained a predominantly white genre, despite the inspiration that folk singers found in blues music, for example.

Roosevelt’s New Deal was surely not appreciated by all Americans. However, the popular music industry provided the people with some songs of praise, trying to ignore the demanding situation that many workers found themselves in. Folk music actually had to offer some positive criticism as well, but Fiddlin’ John Carson’s “Hurrah for Roosevelt”[22] remained an exception, contradicting the fact that “the New Deal gave folklore its biggest boost to date in support from government.”[23] With Guthrie and Seeger within its ranks, folk music had found two activists of the most persuasive kind. Their united powers in the Almanac Singers made them even more effective in the workers’ struggle for change. Two years after they disbanded, a short reunification took place when the Union Boys, including Seeger, Guthrie, and Burl Ives, released the record Songs for Victory: Music for Political Action (1944). Given the release date, it could logically have been a pro-war album, but its content was rather concerned with domestic affairs, promoting a “home-front victory over capitalism and racism”.[24]

2.1 The Depression and its Consequences: Workers’ Music

The Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), founded in 1935, made sure that the number of unions increased. Their emergence triggered a variety of union songs, many of which were written during the depression. These songs were political insofar as they were important material in strikes, with “intrinsic working-class values” typical in folklore[25], and thus not likely to be tolerated by the establishment. Still, the distribution of song books, which had started at the latest during the Civil War to guarantee the entertainment of soldiers[26], could not be prevented. The Little Red Songbook (1909) of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), for example, did its share in the circulation of communist ideas through songs like “Joe Hill”[27]. Its significance lies in its tenacity, as it definitely did not lose any of its value among members of the folk community until the sixties, let alone during the depression. A song of similar importance in the progress of unionism was “Which Side Are You On?”, written by Florence Reece. The lyrics, plainly structured and easy to memorize, had the desired effect of mobilizing workers:

Don’t scab for the bosses,

Don’t listen to their lies.

Us poor folks haven’t got a chance

Unless we organize.[28]

The song’s success became also obvious in its translation into other languages and its use in several settings outside of the USA, where workers organized, “sticking” with the union “till every battle’s won”.[29]

Cohen points out that during the depression quite logically the emergence of a broad left culture was noticeable, which manifested itself in the expansion of the Communist Party as well as in smaller left-wing organizations and circles.[30] The quality of this effect was immense – “never had ‘the left’ been so fully included in America’s public life as in the mid-thirties”.[31] The effect on folk music became immediately apparent, as songwriters could base their work on the success and popularity of workers’ songs that were, due to their depiction of the hard living conditions of workers, still applicable in the thirties – some of them dating back to the 19th century –, for example “John Henry”, among other things a depiction of the hard work of a man in comparison to a machine.[32]

The movement of the so-called Wobblies (the members of the IWW) featured a significant amount of folk songs for corroboration of their ideals and goals. The chorus of the song “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” is described as having symbolic value for the period of depression[33]:

Once I built a railroad,

I made it run,

Made it race against time.

Once I built a railroad, now it's done.

Brother, can you spare a dime?”.[34]

With its condemnation of the injustice in the American society, it is a song belonging to an important tradition of criticism in folk songwriting: People let the “system” make use of their work force, their money in form of taxes and, in times of war, even their lives; what they get in return is so unsatisfactory that life turns into a pure struggle for survival. The ostensible feeling of self-pity between the lines is rather to be seen as a serious condemnation of a situation that seems impossible to escape from without exterior help.

Looking at the emergence of the folk revival, it becomes clear that the urban musical activities were strongly connected to the roots that lay in the rural areas. Styles derived from a multicultural origin and a typical rural experience had shaped the music, which in turn influenced, if not remodelled, the urban style. Folk music was undergoing this kind of change the same way and for similar reasons as blues music: The depression in the South urged the people from the country to move into the big cities – predominantly north. Folk music in the country had been about its beauty, its good and bad inhabitants, about work and anything else that concerned the “common” people, including hardship. The problems tackled by folk music in the city were similar, but it could be argued that through the centralisation of thoughts and opinions in condensed areas, criticism became more precise and pointed. A proof of that are songs of a more overtly pronounced political stance, distributed by performers that travelled the country to make society aware of the social and political troubles that they saw America in.

As usual in folk music, those performers did not only use their own songs for that purpose. The mission they had accepted for themselves was one of providing the people with songs that were not too simple to sound dull, and not too difficult to sound highbrow. Thus, drawing on popular tunes with a history of their own was a logical conclusion, so for example the songs written in the area of Harlan, Kentucky, which was shaken by a long series of strikes during the depression. Folk was not primarily about performing and listening; the aim was to give the workers something they could use for their own encouragement and as a medium to convey their standpoint. Apparently, it happened that strike-breakers were taken aback by the force behind the use of music in strikes: “Einmal drängten sich bezahlte Schläger, Hilfssheriffs und Streikbrecher entlang der Gleise heran, doch als sie die Arbeiter singen hörten, drehte sich die ganz Meute um und haute im Streifenarschzebra-Galopp ab. ”[35] If the strikers could not draw back their adversaries, they still had the feeling of belonging to a community fighting for its rights, which was enormously fuelled by singing.

Folk songs did not scorn extreme outspokenness to express their anger and their will to bring forth changes. The abovementioned strikes in Harlan were portrayed by several songs, some of them of a very easy nature. One of these was “I Hate the Company Bosses”, written by Sarah Ogun Gunning:

I hate the company bosses,
I’ll tell you the reason why,
They caused me so much suffering
And my dearest friends to die.
Oh, what can you do about it,
To these men of power and might?
I tell you, Mr. Capitalist,
I’m going to fight, fight, fight![36]

Another woman associated with union songwriting in the South is Aunt Molly Jackson. She was active in the organization of strikes, her contributions including especially speeches and songs, most of them just as mundane as Gunning’s, for example “I Am a Union Woman”:

I am a union woman,
Just as brave as I can be,
I do not like the bosses
And the bosses don’t like me.”[37]
She stresses the injustice inherent in the capitalist system:
The bosses ride big fine horses,
While we walk in the mud,
Their banner is the dollar sign,
And ours is striped with blood.”[38]

Bucky Halker, an American historian and folk artist, emphasizes the importance of workers’ songs for American history in the twentieth century, saying that these songs can be considered the conscience of the country.[39] Regarding the empathy with the workers’ situation that is depicted in many tunes, and taking into account the force behind unionism, this statement makes complete sense. The depression let the workers suffer, but through this they were given back the voice that had vanished with the songwriter and union leader Joe Hill – a voice that was not only revived, but even reinforced through folk figures like Guthrie and Seeger, who brought a little more sophistication into the soft weapon and in some way displaced the women writers of songs.

2.2 Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger for the People

“This machine kills fascists” – these words[40] written on Woody Guthrie’s guitar in big letters depict quite appropriately the mission he came to acknowledge for himself during his career. Guthrie’s legacy seems incomparable to any other folk figure. He appears to have managed to stay in people’s minds eternally, which is not only due to him being active in a time when the music business and its products were not as ephemeral as they are today, for the most part. Both his person and his music have stayed in the popular music cycle, evident through festivals and projects dedicated to his music, and through the perpetual recurrence of his role as a provider of songs to be reinterpreted.

The reasons for this are manifold. His work spans a range of more than a thousand songs covering, among other topics, love, America, the common people, workers and the union. They all have one thing in common: Their roots lie deep in the folk culture. Popular melodies were used, rewritten and completely changed; the lyrics were the aspect that made Guthrie so idiosyncratic – no one besides him at that time seemed to have managed to express what he saw in such an authentic, persuasive, angry and comical way all at once. In the course of his travels through the country, he got to know especially the living conditions of hobos and the workers in California, which made him realise that he might have to offer something that they needed: his music.

Die weinerlichen alten Balladen, die Woodys Mutter ihm beigebracht hatte, stellten ein Band dar, das alle Leute vom Land vereinigte. Jetzt, da die Entwurzelten ihr Land verloren hatten, blieben ihnen nur noch diese Lieder. … Woody unterhielt die Heimatlosen nicht einfach, er erweckte ihre Vergangenheit zum Leben.[41]

His daughter Nora Guthrie remarks: “There in the work camps my dad became the undisputed spokesman for his people. His songs were to become anthems for the poor and the oppressed and also a prayer for the future.”[42] The extent to which that happened encouraged Guthrie to continue writing for this cause. In this process, he never made an attempt to hide his radicalism.[43]

Cohen draws attention to the fact that folk music is indeed “popularly identified with Woody Guthrie and his descendants”[44], who are to be found in all periods of folk music until now. They include those who copy, reinterpret and carry on his work. Guthrie, among few others, is supposed to have represented the “other” America[45]. Pete Seeger should be included into this category as well. His songwriting left significant marks in popular music history, with “Where have all the flowers gone” being one of the most influential songs.

Guthrie and Seeger for the most part shaped the folk music scene during the forties, having started being active already in the thirties. They met in 1940, when Guthrie encouraged Seeger to join him on a tour, spreading songs and ideas in union meetings. In 1941 Seeger partook in forming the group The Almanac Singers, which Guthrie joined a couple of months later. Their unified activism both in music and in politics was taken beyond the Second World War, when the Weavers, including Seeger, used Guthrie’s songs as a means of underpinning their message. Besides, Seeger still does so today, not having ceased to play a vital role in folk music as one of its oldest performers.

Pete Seeger, unlike Guthrie, was raised in an aristocratic surrounding which he did not like to be reminded of.[46] Nevertheless, deliberate identification with the folk and activism for social change were lifetime endeavours for him, even though he did not dive into the folk culture like Guthrie did, travelling the country like a hobo in order to write about their lifestyle and hardship later on. Studying in Harvard, he was attracted to radical groups, which marked the beginning of his political activity. Seeger’s activism has included the writing of topical songs, the support of candidates during their campaign, and the presence on demonstrations and meetings likewise. All of his efforts were underpinned by performance, as he put “his moral energy into music, elevating entire audiences with its communal spirit.”[47] During the McCarthy era, his career and influence were seriously tried to be harmed: The House Un-American Activities Committee accused him of supporting the Communist threat, which led to his blacklisting due to connections to the Communist Party, which he joined in 1941. Many of his associates were bound to the same fate, some cooperated with the Committee and were therefore spared. This Communist hunt resulted in the ironic fact that the TV show Hootenanny – based on a concept which Seeger himself had made popular and famous – would not feature him as a performer. Not all of his fellow musicians would manage to boycott this show, but those who did earned special acknowledgement by the folk community.

Seeger’s enthusiasm was, according to Cantwell, based on two factors, the hatred of waste and greed on the one hand, and the love of ordinary people on the other.[48] His radicalism was not aggressive per se; after his blacklisting, he concentrated on distributing folk music, even if in a slightly different manner from before. Ruth Crawford Seeger, his stepmother, stated in her book American Folk Songs for Children in Home, School and Nursery School (1948) that “this kind of traditional or folk music is thoroughly identified with the kind of people who made America as we know it. Our children have a right to be brought up with it.”[49] Pete Seeger’s conformity with that was mirrored in his activities in summer camps, dedicating his knowledge and performance “to the thousands of boys and girls who today are using their guitars and their songs to plant the seeds of a better tomorrow in the homes across the land.”[50] Until today, Seeger has had a powerful influence on this fight for a “better tomorrow”. In fact, his lifelong activism is currently sought to be awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize, the petition for which sums up his achievements:

Pete Seeger has been an ambassador for Peace and Social Justice over the course of his 87 year lifetime. As a prominent musician his songs, messages and performance style have worked to engage other people, particularly the youth, in causes to end the Vietnam war [sic], ban nuclear weapons, work for international solidarity, and ecological responsibility. It is time that a cultural worker receives the recognition that this work has great influence and global reach, that it is not only a medium of entertainment but of education, compassion and action.[51]

Guthrie’s and Seeger’s undisputable significance in the struggle of the workers during the thirties and the forties is primarily based on their ability to raise awareness of the workers’ might, which resulted in the victory of the Congress of Industrial Organizations over a number of big companies. The songs they popularized and wrote for this cause remained where they were needed, even after the singers had moved on to the next setting.

2.2.1 “This Land Was Made for You and Me”: Guthrie’s Political Songwriting and Legacy

Woody Guthrie’s political songwriting takes up a tenth of his work. In songs and contributions to radio programmes and newspapers, he distributed a message that went beyond tale-telling and his efforts were often subtly underlined by the attempt to raise awareness. One could argue that he merely uttered opinions, but his success proves that these opinions were not his alone. In fact, the truth and timelessness of many of Guthrie’s lyrics are still visible, as his songs are reinterpreted time and again, and the importance of his most famous song gets stressed likewise: “Es ist schwierig, über politische Dinge mit einer Botschaft zu schreiben. Vielleicht hat Woody Guthrie das mit ‘This Land Is Your Land’ geschafft. Jeder fühlte sich davon als Amerikaner angesprochen“[52]:

This land is your land,
This land is my land,
From California to the New York island.
From the red-wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters,
This land was made for you and me. …[53]

Janis Ian shares this viewpoint with many of her fellow folk musicians. The convincing universality of the lyrics has always been beneficial to their reception, despite the fact that what they express did not equate reality during the thirties and afterwards. Members of the folk community might even argue that the status they describe has not been achieved until now.[54]

At any rate, Guthrie hit a feeling that folk music tried to transmit – the depiction of the American people as a society that holds together, especially in times of misery. Alan Lomax saw this ability of Guthrie in his whole work: “In [seinen Liedern] steckt die Entschlossenheit des Volkes, durchzuhalten und gegen Unterdrückung zu kämpfen. Ich glaube, das nennt man den American Spirit.”[55] “This Land Is Your Land” is a way of underpinning this American spirit in an affectionate and admiring way through the usage of almost symbolic images like “the endless skyway”, “golden valley”, “diamond deserts”, and the general feeling of taking pride in being part of this nation. This patriotic view is similarly to be found in “Pastures of Plenty”, written out of a hobo’s perspective: “My land I’ll defend with my life, if it be, / ‘Cause my pastures of plenty must always be free.”[56] The song, however, subtly contains the hardship of the hobos, illustrated by the enumeration of places the singer has seen. This opposition of ideas and moods can often be found in Guthrie’s work; he naturally combines political criticism with patriotism and complaints with comedy, as in “This Land Is Your Land”:

Was a big high wall there that tried to stop me
A sign was painted said: Private Property
But on the back side, it didn’t say nothing –
God blessed America for me. …[57]

Guthrie’s political songwriting is shaped by these aspects, but his creativity is obvious similarly in his union songs. “Union Maid” was recorded by the Almanacs during the early forties; the song gained an immense popularity, printed in lots of song books and sung by unionists throughout the country. Guthrie wrote many songs in a very short time span; a parody on the song “Greenback Dollar”, written in an hour and supposedly his first strikers’ song, evoked an immense applause and sing-along atmosphere among them, which is probably based both on his performance and on the lyrics that could be easily memorized and reproduced:

I ain’t gonna pick your 80 ¢ cotton,
Ain’t gonna starve myself that way.
Gonna hold out for a dollar and a quarter.
Will they take us back again?[58]

Guthrie’s extraordinary ability to enthuse his audience was indeed one of the main reasons of his success. During the war, when the Almanacs were still existent, the union songs were temporarily shelved in order to concentrate on support the fight against fascism. Guthrie rewrote many of his songs to adapt them to the new situation, but he also added some exceptional tunes to his and the Almanacs’ repertoire.

“It’s th’ rich folks, they start all the wars – and then yell for us poor folks to come do their dying for them”[59]: Guthrie was against exploitation for warfare, but he nonetheless supported the war once the international relations and dangers became clearer. When Hitler declared war to Russia, Guthrie’s hate was directed solely into one direction: “His name ist [sic] Adolph Hitler, / God damn his soul to hell”.[60] After the Russian invasion of Poland, he wrote the talking blues “More War News”, revealing once more his ideological stance: “If I’d been living in Poland then, / I’d been glad Stalin stepped in”.[61] Guthrie was also aware of the fact that the people needed condolence for the losses caused by the war. His answer to the attack of the U.S.S. Reuben James, in which more than 80 people died, was the song of the same name, popularised by the Almanacs. Guthrie’s original intention was the listing of all the names of the dead in order to express the tragedy, but the message was cut short into a terse chorus by the rest of the group.

Woody Guthrie died already in 1967. Huntington’s chorea, a disease of the nervous system, had put an end to his songwriting already in the early fifties, but his work has been continued, as it were, ever since. He is repeatedly mentioned by folk musicians as their chief inspiration, which is obvious both in their own writing and in the extent to which his songs are covered. In the late nineties, Nora Guthrie initiated a project to set to music some of his lyrics that had remained unrecorded. Looking for a folk artist with similar ideals and musical handwriting, she found Billy Bragg in England and the American band Wilco, who named the project Mermaid Avenue.[62] One of the songs included is called “The Unwelcome Guest”, set to music by Bragg – an effort indeed reminiscent of Guthrie’s sound. The song deals with the unjust distribution of wealth, a misery that can be overcome by stealing from the “fat rich man” the gold he has “taken from somebody else”. Guthrie’s sad message is one of a brave Robin Hood figure that sees his mission in the redistribution of money, even if in danger of being caught and executed, which will be the necessary end. The vision concludes with the victory of the rich:

Yes, they'll catch me napping one day
And they'll kill me
And then I'll be gone but that won't be my end
For my guns and my saddle will always be filled
By unwelcome travellers and other brave men
And they'll take the money and spread it out equal
Just like the Bible and the prophets suggest
But the men that go riding to help these poor workers
The rich will cut down like an unwelcome guest.[63]

The project has activated other folk artists to do the same, for example Janis Ian, who set to music Guthrie’s lyrics of “I Hear You Sing Again” in 2004, or The Klezmatics and their project called “Holy Ground”, exploring lyrics that deal with Jewish culture. Moreover, even in Germany, folk festivals do not seem to be able to do without Guthrie; his legacy has yet things to offer.

2.2.2 America’s “Tuning Fork”: Seeger and the Use of Folk Music as a Political Instrument

Pete Seeger’s political songwriting is an entity that does not allow to be pulled to pieces. To him, music and politics are inseparable. In fact, he sees music as the embodiment of politics.[64] Perhaps more than any other, he has showed how closely connected political or social progress can be to the use of music, be it as encouragement for those who struggle or as a universal message for those who have not understood what he considers worth fighting for. Every time Seeger participated in demonstrations or other ways of political statements of the people, his contributions included musical performances. His success is ascribed to his way of expression and singing, to his ability to ignite audiences with motivation and singing along, and to his ever conscious view on American society. Furthermore, the stability of his activism and opinion, despite his commercial success, has always been praised.

Seeger claims to have been largely inspired and indirectly taught by Guthrie, who was able to write songs at an incredible rate: “…I met Woody and got the idea you could write songs. I first tried putting new words to old tunes, which is what he did, and found that I was better at putting new tunes to old words.”[65] A striking example of this style is “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”, the composition that could be seen as the foundation of his international fame. Seeger states he used an old Russian song as a model, “Koloda Duda”.[66] At any rate – the lines of the lyrics, predominantly concluded by a question mark, make an attempt to raise awareness by commenting the present state of society. The argument put across by progressing from one subject to another and arriving at the beginning again, linking all the subjects in a cycle: Where have all the flowers gone? …young girls … husbands … soldiers … graveyards … flowers. The song merely asks where all of them have “gone”, uttering no position besides the repeated question “When will they ever learn?”. This progression within the lyrics and the use of repetition make the song easy to memorize and a valuable tool, which was proved by its emblematic use in the sixties.

The traditional song “We Shall Overcome” owes its popularity to a great extent to Seeger, who slightly edited it and made it a substantial part of his performances. In his Carnegie Hall concert in 1963, he introduces the song with a motivational appeal to the audience:

If you would like to get out of a pessimistic mood yourself, I got one sure remedy for you: Go help those people down in Birmingham, Mississippi, or Alabama. All kinds of jobs that need to be done. Takes hands, and hearts and heads to do it, human beings to do it. And then we’ll see this song come true.[67]

It should become the hymn of the civil rights movement, also lyrically adapted to the situation, as it has often been done with folk songs.[68] Having this in mind, Seeger highlights the rationale behind the use of topical songs thus: “I'm sorry when people think that music is just something to escape their troubles. At best, music helps in understanding troubles and helps get people together to do something about their troubles.”[69] In an interview in Penthouse magazine in 1971, he explains his view on the effectiveness of music in politics as follows:

Penthouse: Do you think a protest song is capable of having any political effect?

Seeger: Anatole France said: “Songs have overthrown kings and empires.” I think he exaggerated the case, but nevertheless it is a point to consider.

Penthouse: To put it differently, isn’t a folk song really a kind of slogan set to music and sung by the converted?

Seeger: Sometimes yes, sometimes no. But I’ll tell you this, there must be something in protest songs or television wouldn’t be so anxious to keep them off the air. This is usually my best proof that there must be some danger in them.

Penthouse: Has a specific music ever played a part in bringing about political change?

Seeger: Music plays perhaps a more important part in maintaining stability and continuance of tradition. Music has performed both these functions at various times.[70]

Seeger’s practical exercise of this “maintaining of stability” also meant that he did not cease to criticize the government, as had been done for at least three decades by him and his colleagues in music business. President Johnson’s role in the development of the Vietnam War was commented on in especially two of Seeger’s songs, “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy” and “(If You Love Your Uncle Sam) Bring Them Home”.

“Waist Deep in the Big Muddy” makes references to the singer’s experience during the Second World War; the captain of the legion repeatedly tells them to “push on”, putting the soldiers in danger by “ford[ing] a river”. The “big fool” pays this persistency with his life, having ignored the sergeant’s warnings. Seeger’s reference to the present situation is made in the last verse:

But every time I read the papers
That old feeling comes on;
We're waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool says to push on.[71]

Thus, the “big fool” of the seventies might as well have been President Johnson, who was similarly persistent concerning the American participation in the Vietnam War. Underestimating the complicated situation, he was eager to send further troops to the setting and thus jeopardized them accordingly. Seeger was not the only one aware of that, but for the audience, the song hit the nail on the head.

“(If You Love Your Uncle Sam) Bring Them Home” expressed a similar stance far less metaphorically. The title already specifies the wish of the singer, who explains excessively why this wish is justified. The military leaders are presented as arbitrary: “They want to test their weaponry, / … But here is their big fallacy”.[72] Moreover, the singer does not grant those leaders the efficiency of their method that contains napalm bombs and other technologically advanced products. He exposes his will to defend his country (“There’s one thing I must confess, / … I’m not really a pacifist”), but also reveals the weapon that he considers the only effective one:

For defense you need common sense, …
They don't have the right armaments, …
The world needs teachers, books and schools, …
And learning a few universal rules, …[73]

In the later period of his career until today, Seeger has concentrated a great part of his attention on environmental politics (“Sailing Up My Dirty Stream”). Other contributions he made in the field of capital punishment, represented by the song “Walking Down Death Row”. He still performs and gives speeches on demonstrations, being “a sort of reincarnated troubadour who has the genius to make us laugh or cry or think nostalgically. He is an American tuning fork.”[74]

Seeger’s career has been shaken by a multitude of events, both in a positive and a negative sense. His setting to music of social and political struggles and deficiencies and his key position in the folk revival remain to be seen as a major cultural contribution of the twentieth century. His political attitude has never changed, but he quit the membership of the Communist Party, reasoning “it was pointless. … I realized I could sing the same songs I sang whether I belonged to the Communist Party or not, and I never liked the idea anyway of belonging to a secret organization.”[75] He was given a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Grammy Association in 1993, and also released award-winning records, for example Pete (1996). In 2007, a film was released whose title and content indicate the amalgamation of his music and its political underpinnings: Pete Seeger: The Power of Song. Seeger’s music has indeed been powerful throughout his career, whether it was appreciated or not.

2.2.3 The Almanac Singers

The appearance of the Almanac Singers in the world of folk music in 1941 basically meant a compression of ideals and political attitudes typically found in the folk community:

The Almanacs’ songs … were intended to serve as an all-purpose topical commentary, guideline, and reinforcement of political and social values for the left-wing movement. Identification with the working class or ‘people’ came, among other ways, through the use of the folk song medium as the prime vehicle as agit-prop communication.[76]

Accommodating some of the most prolific songwriters and performers of the scene, the group stood for tradition in music and for radicalism in politics likewise, both of which palpable in their songs and especially during their concerts. The lyrics were just as attractive to the – mostly young – listeners as the traditional tunes that the Almanac Singers used eclectically: “The songs of the Almanac Singers reflect yesterday’s and today’s grievances of the workers in every corner of the United States. Theirs are the songs of the Southern sharecropper, the conscripted youth, the political prisoner, the fighting unionist, the evicted farmer and the dust bowl refugee.”[77]

Living together in the ‘Almanac house’ in New York’s Greenwich Village, some of the most influential composers and musicians quite effortlessly gathered people around themselves on a regular basis to discuss, to write and, above all, to sing together. The weekly meetings came to be known as hootenannies[78], and they helped to enlarge the number of followers, possibly supported by the fact that entrance was allowed to everyone who was interested,[79] only limited by a small fee. Basically, the hootenannies were political meetings with a great deal of (folk) music, therefore representing entirely the idea behind folk music as a soft political weapon. The Almanac Singers were the core group of this team – Pete Seeger, Lee Hays, Millard Lampell, and soon also Woody Guthrie. Through travelling the country and playing where their songs were “needed”, they further expanded the audience of their obviously left-oriented programme, especially in places of strike activities.[80] Thus, the Almanac Singers saw themselves and were received predominantly as moral support for the struggling workers: “We think this is the first time there has ever been an organized attempt … to sing the folk songs of America […]. We are trying to give back to the people the songs of the workers.”[81] They were supposedly associated to the greatest extent with the song that was almost emblematic of unionism: “Which Side Are You On?”.[82]

Talking Union, an album that featured a range of union songs, was released in July 1941. It was convincing and important because of its originality, as new compositions were included. “Talking Union”, “Get Thee Behind Me, Satan”, and “Union Maid” strengthened their message and their popularity among workers, the latter performing well through its pounding rhythm:

There once way a union maid who never was afraid
Of the goons and ginks and company finks,
And the deputy sheriffs who made the raids. …
Oh you can’t scare me I’m sticking to the union,
Sticking to the union, sticking to the union,
Oh you can’t scare me I’m sticking to the union,
Sticking to the union until the day I die.[83]

Their “virulent and polemical” record Songs for John Doe (May 1941) brought the Almanac Singers under a strict surveillance.[84] Its content was of a strong antiwar quality and “highly offensive to President Roosevelt’s supporters”.[85] Stricter surveillance meant documentation of their “subversive nature” by the FBI, which connoted them being regarded as communist.[86] “The Ballad of October 16th” was probably one of the main causes of the stir:

Oh Franklin Roosevelt told the people how he felt.

We damned near believed what he said;

He said, “I hate war – and so does Eleanor,

But we won’t be safe till everybody’s dead.[87]

The songs “Plow Under” and “Washington Breakdown” portray attitudes towards participation of the United States in the war. The first of these songs contemplates the fact that an American participation would mean that a vast number of young men (“every fourth”) would be sent to the front, resulting in a high rate of casualties. The Almanac’s pacifist stance did not allow this exploitation; their method is sarcastic and makes use of anger and the emphasis of their resistance at the end, almost shouting: “We are here to say you can’t / Plow the fourth one under!”. The first verse introduces the argumentation as follows:


[1] Kaarel Siniveer, Folk-Lexikon (Reinbek: Rowohlt, 1981), 101-102.

[2] Monika Tibbe and Manfred Bonson, Folk – Folklore – Volkslied: Zur Situation in- und ausländischer Volksmusik in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Stuttgart: J. B. Metzler, 1981), 10-11.

[3] Richard A. Reuss with JoAnne C. Reuss. American Folk Music and Left-Wing Politics, 1927-1957 (Lanham, Maryland, and London: The Scarecrow Press, 2000), 16.

[4] Alan Lomax, quoted in: Robert Cantwell, When We Were Good: The Folk Revival (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996), 104.

[5] Charles Seeger, 1938, quoted in: Ronald D. Cohen, Rainbow Quest: The Folk Music Revival and American Society, 1940-1970 (Amherst and Boston: University of Massachusetts Press, 2002), 22.

[6] Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers, “Radical Folk,” (accessed July 8, 2007).

[7] Irwin Silber, 1965, quoted in: Cohen, Rainbow Quest, 233.

[8] Irwin Silber proclaimed so towards the end of the sixties (Cohen, Rainbow Quest, 281).

[9] Thomas R. Gruning, Millenium Folk: American Folk Music since the Sixties (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2006), 1.

[10] Victor Grossman, If I Had a Song: Lieder und Sänger der USA (Berlin: Lied der Zeit, 1988), 118-120.

[11] Ibid., 121.

[12] Wolfgang Tilgner, Psalmen, Pop und Punk: Populäre Musik in den USA (Berlin: Henschel, 1993), 216.

[13] Cohen, Rainbow Quest, 13.

[14] Ibid., 13.

[15] Ibid., 22.

[16] Reader’s Digest, quoted in: Ibid., 27.

[17] American treasures of the Library of Congress, “God Bless America” (Library of Congress), (accessed December 18, 2007).

[18] The term was coined by the composer Monroe H. Rosenfeld (1861-1918), who used it in a newspaper article to illustrate the noise that was ceaselessly heard in the street where the music publishing houses were situated. Tin Pan Alley was a synonym for the “publishing empire” in the United States, with the sole goal of commercial success (Peter Wicke, Kai-Erik Ziegenrücker and Wieland Ziegenrücker, Handbuch derPopulären Musik [Mainz: Schott, 1997], 547-549).

[19] George Lewis, “America is in their Songs,” Daily Worker, March 24, 1941, (accessed January 6, 2008).

[20] Ibid.

[21] Grossman, If I Had a Song, 149.

[22] Tilgner, Psalmen, Pop und Punk, 219.

[23] Reuss with Reuss, American Folk Music and Left-Wing Politics, 17.

[24] Cohen, Rainbow Quest, 36.

[25] Reuss with Reuss, American Folk Music and Left-Wing Politics, 19.

[26] Bill C. Malone, Singing Cowboys and Musical Mountaineers: Southern Culture and the Roots of Country Music (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1993), 19-20.

[27] The song is a very famous piece about the union leader, who was executed in 1915 for a murder he allegedly committed. He is supposed to have been innocent, convicted by false pretences to be punished for his “socialist” work in the union (Grossman, If I Had a Song, 85).

[28] Grossman, If I Had a Song, 134.

[29] Ibid., 134.

[30] Cohen, Rainbow Quest, 21.

[31] Cantwell, When We Were Good, 125.

[32] English Language Programs Division, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, American Folk Song Heritage (Washington, D.C.: United States Information Agency, 1991), 23-24.

[33] Grossman, If I Had a Song, 121.

[34] (accessed January 6, 2008).

[35] Woody Guthrie, quoted in: Grossman, If I Had a Song, 132.

[36] Grossman, If I Had a Song, 132.

[37] Ibid., 130.

[38] Ibid., 131.

[39] Bucky Halker, “Abenteuerreise durch die Musik der US-amerikanischen Arbeiterbewegung: Stimmen der Unzufriedenheit,” Folker! 3 (2004): 29.

[40] Woodrow Wilson Guthrie (1912-1967); Pete Seeger (*1919).

[41] Joe Klein, Woody Guthrie: Die Biographie, trans. Martin Bauer and Christa Hohendahl (München: Econ Ullstein List, 2001), 100.

[42] Nora Guthrie, quoted in: Kim Hopkins, dir., Man in the Sand (Union Production, 1999).

[43] Klein, Woody Guthrie, 162.

[44] Cohen, Rainbow Quest, iv.

[45] Bernd Bothy, ”Das andere Amerika: The Klezmatics spielen Woody Guthries ‘Holy Ground’,” Folker! 3 (2004): 68.

[46] Klein, Woody Guthrie, 193.

[47] Cantwell, When We Were Good, 261.

[48] Ibid., 260.

[49] Ruth Crawford Seeger, quoted in: Ibid., 278.

[50] Pete Seeger in Sing Out!, quoted in: Ibid., 272.

[51] Jim Capaldi, “The Petition,” Pete Seeger Appreciation Page, 2008, (accessed January 6, 2008).

[52] Janis Ian, quoted in: Michael Kleff, “Heimisch in Nashville: Janis Ian – Leonard Bernstein legte Grundstein für ihre Karriere,” Folker! 3 (2004): 65.

[53] (accessed January 6, 2008).

[54] Ani DiFranco’s song “Every state line” touches this issue. Please consider chapter 4.2.

[55] Alan Lomax, quoted in: Klein, Woody Guthrie, 192.

[56] Klein, Woody Guthrie, 228.

[57] Ibid., 173. The original version of “This land is your land” contained the final line “God blessed America for me” in each verse.

[58] Klein, Woody Guthrie, 165.

[59] Woody Guthrie, quoted in Hopkins, Man in the Sand.

[60] These lines were part of an added verse of his song “Great Historical Bum”; Klein, Woody Guthrie, 259.

[61] Ibid., 163-164.

[62] Guthrie’s last fixed residence, before he went to the hospital for the last decade of his life, was situated on Mermaid Avenue, New York.

[63] 9A5B9889E8CA5CCC4825699A002BDBC1 (accessed January 6, 2008).

[64] Klein, Woody Guthrie, 216.

[65] Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers, “How Can I Keep from Singing?: Pete Seeger Looks Back at a Life of Stories and Songs – And Ahead to the Next Verse,” Acoustic Guitar 7, 2002, (accessed January 6, 2008).

[66] Ibid.

[67] Pete Seeger (1963), quoted in: Tibbe and Bonson, Folk – Folklore – Volkslied, 112.

[68] For a more extended discussion of “We Shall Overcome”, please consider chapter 3.2.1.

[69] Unknown author, “Penthouse Interview: Pete Seeger,” Penthouse 1, 1971, (accessed January 6, 2008).

[70] Ibid.

[71] Source: (accessed January 6, 2008).

[72] (accessed January 6, 2008).

[73] Ibid.

[74] Paul H. Little, “Seeger Helps Restore American Folk Heritage,” Down Beat, May 30, 1956, (accessed January 6, 2008).

[75] Rodgers, “How Can I Keep from Singing?.”

[76] Reuss with Reuss, American Folk Music and Left-Wing Politics, 150.

[77] Unknown author, “Ballads for Labor Highlight Program of Almanac Singers,” Daily Worker, March 28, 1941, (accessed January 6, 2008).

[78] The term goes back to the 19th century, when such meetings were organized by unionists. In the sixties, it was used as the title for a TV show, which supposedly destroyed the idea of the close connection between singer and audience (Siniveer, Folk-Lexikon, 127).

[79] Grossman, If I Had a Song, 184.

[80] Ibid., 181.

[81] Millard Lampell, quoted in: Reuss with Reuss, American Folk Music and Left-Wing Politics, 150.

[82] Siniveer, Folk-Lexikon, 15.

[83] Joe Klein, Woody Guthrie, 194.

[84] Reuss with Reuss, American Folk Music and Left-Wing Politics, 151.

[85] Cohen, Rainbow Quest, 29.

[86] Cohen, Rainbow Quest, 29.

[87] Source: (accessed December 18, 2007).

Excerpt out of 126 pages


US-American folk music and its political stances from the great depression to the present
Martin Luther University  (Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
849 KB
US-American, Folk music, Bob Dylan, Protestsong, Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Ani DiFranco, Amerika, Unions, Gewerkschaften, Civil Rights Movement, Vietnamkrieg, Vietnam War, Protest, politische Musik, Musikwissenschaft, Pop, Popmusik, Politik
Quote paper
Cornelia Richter (Author), 2008, US-American folk music and its political stances from the great depression to the present, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Look inside the ebook
Title: US-American folk music and its political stances from the great depression to the present

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free