Joe Hill Returns: Labor Movements and Protest Music

From San Diego up to Maine,
In every mine and mill –
Where working men defend their rights
It’s there you’ll find Joe Hill.
It’s there you’ll find Joe Hill.

This week I offer my second entry in a series about protest music, an essay about labor movements and protest music in the United States. There are many, many books on the topic; there’s no way I can do the labor movement justice in 1,500 words or fewer. So I’ve written an essay that circles around the life of one song: “Joe Hill.” We’ve gathered some great videos / audio examples here: Joan Baez, Bruce Springsteen, Pete Seeger, and even Paul Robeson. There’s something here for teachers and students of history, folklore, music, labor and social movements, and good stuff for fans of Zilphia Horton and Tom Morello.

Here’s a teaser: “In 2011, singer Joan Baez performed the song ‘Joe Hill’ for a Veteran’s Day rally sponsored by Occupy Wall Street, a movement that began in New York City that same year in response to widespread financial corruption at banks and corporations. Baez has long been known for her work as an activist; although she might be new to younger generations, her voice is still respected at protests. The assembled crowd was clearly familiar with her song choice, but for those who may not have known all the words, she spoke each line of the final verses before inviting them to join in. Protest music as a communal activity depends entirely on the audience’s familiarity with the song and its willingness to sing along.”

Read the entire essay here and leave a comment or question if you want to join the discussion.

A note for our avid readers and contributors: we’re going on hiatus in July so we can re-boot the site and stock up on fabulous feature essays while every eon goes on vacation. We’re putting our fall schedule together, so if you’ve thought about writing for us, pitch me a story!

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