Monday, February 11, 2013

Where Have All the Folk Singers Gone?

The answer is this:  Many of the inspiring anti-war, folk-singing activists are still out there singing and protesting.

Noel Paul Stookey
I was lucky enough to see Noel Paul Stookey, "Paul" of Peter, Paul, and Mary fame, in a concert this past weekend.  He sang the beautiful song, "Where Have All the Flowers Gone," by Pete Seeger.  He claims Peter, Paul, and Mary were singing this song one night in 1961 to an audience of six in a folk club in Boston. The six people included the club owner, the waiter, the barman and the Kingston Trio.  The Kingston Trio's version soon came out and the song reached a wide audience.

Paul also sang "Puff the Magic Dragon" accompanied by every member of the audience and mentioned how weird it was to see that song at the top of the charts in 1963, surrounded by rock and roll and surfing songs.  And, no, he said, it was not about drugs.

When the audience sang together, it reminded me that the folk singers of the 60s were not just writing and singing songs.  They participated in marches, demonstrations, and protests.  Their songs and their presence brought people together, the way union songs brought workers together when they were struggling to create a single voice against oppressive bosses.

One highlight of the concert was Paul's singing of the new lyrics he wrote for "America the Beautiful."  He said that while the first verse was rousing and strong, the original 2nd and 3rd verses with their "pilgrim feet," "alabaster cities", and "halcyon skies" were unsingable.  In his new version, he speaks to the population diversity and environmental challenges of America today.

Original First Verse

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

New Second Verse
Oh nation of the immigrant
And of the native son
Whose loyal families labor still
That we may live as one
America, America
Renew thy founder's call
And liberty and justice be
The right of one and all

New Third Verse
Oh bountiful of forest green,
Of lake and fertile lands
Where seeds of hope are tended by
Thy sons and daughters hands
America, America
The earth still calls to thee
Let human life and nature strive
To live in harmony

Another highlight of the Paul concert was this beautiful, haunting song:  Jean-Claude  -- about Nazi deportations of Jews in Alsace-Lorraine, France, 1941.  Paul - a protest singer to the end.

The song writers today, among them K'naan and Billy Bragg, are still writing powerful and inspiring protest songs.  Author Libero Della Piana wrote a blog summarizing the protest music of the 00s.  Powerful music continues to bring people together, even if everyone listens through their own private audio device.

1 comment:

  1. There's also

    Dear Mr. President by Pink

    Not Ready To Make Nice by Dixie Chicks