Why Organize A Singalong?
I organized a musical event for July 14 at the CWA Local 6215 hall in Dallas. We celebrated Bastille Day and Woody Guthrie’s birthday. As far as I know, it was the first of
its kind in Dallas history. It came out very well. About 50-55 people, including 6 performers, had a great time. There was a lot of good will. I’m not sure how much money we
raised for KNON radio’s “Workers Beat” program, but we raised $534.25 that I know of for Dallas AFL-CIO.
But why did I do it?
I’ve organized cultural events before. In general, I’m motivated by a desire to restore the kind of cultural traditions that helped build the American labor movement during
its great upsurge, 1935-1947. I also like to try to combine the labor movement with other progressive elements, in fact that’s what I’m usually trying to do — build unity. As
for fund raising, I’m always raising money for my program on KNON. But I had a special reason for making this one a fund raiser for the Dallas AFL-CIO.
It is my opinion that the labor movement is being bled to death by Donald J Trump and the Republican party. The recent Supreme Court, Janus Vs AFSCME, will deplete labor’s
finances by millions of dollars. Trump’s executive orders driving federal unions out of their workplace offices will cost a lot. The concerted effort of such savage anti-
worker organizations as the National Right to Work Committee and many others is designed to discourage workers and stop dues payments. Many state legislatures are trying to
stop or hinder dues collections.
I don’t know any numbers, and the labor movement is not likely to start advertising its weaknesses, but I think it’s fair to assume that they really need money. I knew I
could’t raise a lot of money with a simple singalong on July 14, but I also knew that we have to start changing people’s attitudes about financing the labor movement. That was
my motivation. I’m pleased with the result.
Here’s What Happened
If you missed the event, you might want to read what was said and watch videos of what was sung. Here are my notes.
Host’s introductions and comments:
Introduce Dallas AFL-CIO principal officer Mark York. He will include greetings from Texas AFL-CIO President Rick Levy as follows:
“I can’t think of a better quote about labor songs and culture than from the man himself [Woody Guthrie]:
‘I hate a song that makes you think that you are not any good. I hate a song that makes you think that you are just born to lose. Bound to lose. No good to nobody. No good for
nothing. Because you are too old or too young or too fat or too slim or too ugly or too this or too that. Songs that run you down or poke fun at you on account of your bad
luck or hard travelling. I am out to fight those songs to my very last breath of air and my last drop of blood. I am out to sing songs that will prove to you that this is your
world and that if it has hit you pretty hard and knocked you for a dozen loops, no matter what color, what size you are, how you are built, I am out to sing the songs that
make you take pride in yourself and in your work. And the songs that I sing are made up for the most part by all sorts of folks just about like you. I could hire out to the
other side, the big money side, and get several dollars every week just to quit singing my own kind of songs and to sing the kind that knock you down still farther and the
ones that poke fun at you even more and the ones that make you think that you’ve not got any sense at all. But I decided a long time ago that I’d starve to death before I’d
sing any such songs as that. The radio waves and your movies and your jukeboxes and your songbooks are already loaded down and running over with such no good songs as that
‘We have to make our own songs and our own culture and remember who we are and what we are fighting for. Thanks to you and the folks putting this together for reminding us to
always be true to our best nature and be proud of who we are.” –Rick Levy
Host (me): Thank you for being here to help us revive labor’s cultural heritage. It’s a singalong. You should have a song sheet with the words to the chorus of some great
When you leave today, I’d like to have your contact information on the back of the song sheets so you can learn about future events.
Why do we say that Woody Guthrie is America’s greatest songwriter? He began his singing career in the 1930s and was taken from public view by 1950, so hardly anybody in this
room has any direct memories of him. Some of you know the name of his son, Arlo Guthrie, and some of you may know some of the songs that he wrote, but he wrote hundreds and
had a profound effect on the progressive movement in America. That’s why we’re celebrating him today.
Woody put working people first. Almost all of his songs are about working families, and many of them are about organizing. One of the most famous is “Union Maid,” brought to
you here by Linda Coleman. She’ll sing the verses, but she wants you to help her sing the chorus
Union Maid and some introductory video: https://youtu.be/rkq8dK0GP6o
Woody Guthrie popularized the “Talking blues.” You’ve heard this style from Nobel-prize-winner Bob Dylan. But you may never have asked where Dylan got his style. Let’s have a
couple of talking blues from Brother Kenneth Williams:
Mean Talking Blues: https://youtu.be/oxMKDrDGZ0g
Woody sang for unions, for people on strike, and for organizing drives. Here is Kenny Winfree with Woody’s song: “You Gotta Go Down”
You Gotta Go Down and Join the Union: https://youtu.be/ynQqbpRM_bw
Almost any book of folk songs will have more Woody Guthrie tunes than those from any other writer. He wrote songs about everything. Pete Seeger tells the story of the
blacklist time when the FBI was arresting, deporting, or intimidating every progressive artist in America. The FBI actually visited Woody and Pete, and Pete said it really was
intimidating. But he said Woody laughed about it and immediately wrote a new song: Would I point a gun for my country.
All folk music is very close to gospel music. When Woody was just a little boy in Okemah, Oklahoma, his mother sang gospel and folk music to him. James Kille brings you some
of Woody’s original lyrics:
Jesus Christ: https://youtu.be/OdsBZHJ6ePY
In the tradition of original folk music, we bring you this satire by our own Dallas group: The Billionaires
Billionaire song (in previous video I think)
All his life, Woody Guthrie was committed to the progressive movement, and so are we. We’d like to have your help in keeping two pillars of progressivism going strong: KNON
radio and the Dallas AFL-CIO. KNON allows the “Workers Beat” every Saturday at 9 AM. We advertise as many progressive events as we can find out, and we explain why people need
to join the movement. The very center of the movement in Dallas is the AFL-CIO Central Labor Council. The labor movement has put its old isolation behind it and is a
fundamental part of progressivism today. It takes money to run these things, and they’re always short. As Woody used to say when they asked him if he was a communist: “Well, I
might be, I’ve been in the red all my life.”
Please fill out the pledge form in your brochures. You can get all the paperwork done with Bonnie Mathis, who has her computer warmed up and waiting for you. When you get
finished, how about some free lunch and a beer? We’ll start the music up as soon as the artists all eat.
Noon: Lunch break
Shenandoah (Included with “Philadelphia lawyer” below)
Introduce the performers? At least Jon Gentry on violin. Ben Willett recording us.
Woody loved to write about cowboys, and he had fun with everything he did. Next James Kille, Linda Coleman, and I will bring you one of Woody’s ballads.
Philadelphia Lawyer: https://youtu.be/sewKC7EVysw
Today, the treatment of immigrants is an international scandal. Woody was sensitive to the problem when he wrote this song, presented to you by Anthony Esparza.
All of us are pretty much amateurs except for Kenny Winfree. I asked him to do a couple of extra numbers before we get back to Woody Guthrie
Kenny Winfree extra songs: https://youtu.be/dSKUtCbKv2o
Back around 1990, My wife and I visited Okemah, Oklahoma, where Woody was born in 1912. We asked people about Woody and they said “We don’t talk about him here.” Within a few
years, they changed their tune and now the Woody Guthrie annual festival is an important national event. It’s a sign of the times: As the government gets crazier, the people
are getting more sane.
Oklahoma may not have loved Woody all the time during his lifetime, but Woody sure loved Oklahoma! Join me in the chorus please!
Oklahoma Hills: https://youtu.be/AsHSSSw9UmI
In Woody’s time, the biggest issue became the fascist takeover of Europe. Woody fought it every way he could. Some people would say that we need a fight like that now!
All You Fascists Bound to Lose: https://youtu.be/-X5wHfLfKhc
Americans come together around Woody’s songs. Let’s join in on the chorus for this one.
This Land is Your Land: https://youtu.be/oL8RNiIi3qI
THANKS FOR COMING!