Trovador Eduardo Peralta

Sunday, February 01, 2009


The social change music movement in the United States

has a long and powerful tradition. The songs come out of the political communities working for change at home as well as in solidarity with struggling communities around the world. Some of the songs provide a cultural connection for immigrants back to their country of origin. Some come directly from the very diverse (so called "melting pot" ) styles reflected the multi-cultural population. A few of the songs got national and international attention back when radio stations and record companies were still owned by people and not corporations. There have also been times in history when the songs were intentionally silenced. However, many artists continued to sing the songs in spite of the difficulties. Of course, this is very familiar to the people of Chile. Interestingly, one of the most silenced times may be the last 20 years! The political song movement is alive and well and perhaps in this new era, the songs will be more widely heard than during the Bush Administration.

My great appreciation to Eduardo Peralta for his presentation of some songs from the political tradition of the USA. Two of the artists he is presenting are great heros among the older people. Phil Ochs and Woody Guthrie. They are not so well known by the younger ones. However, this is starting to change. Phil's sister takes a tour of musicians around the country to present Phil's songs, songs that are still very relevant. And Woody Guthrie's songs, This Land Is My Land was sung at a large rock concert in Washington, DC for the inauguration of Barak Obama. Bruce Springsteen invited Pete Seeger to lead the song and hundreds of thousands of people gathered sang along.

Woody Guthrie - Woody was born in 1912. He sang all over the country. Written on his instrument was "This Machine Kills Fascists". Woody was perhaps most famous for his work during the depression. He rode the railroad trains in box cars and sang with poor unemployed people, helping them to carry on. He wrote many songs about the great dust storms in Oklahoma and the migrants who moved to California in search of work. He had 8 children, one of whom is Arlo Gurthrie who is a wonderful contemporary artist working in US today. Woody Guthried died of Huntington's disease. However, he left a huge collection of songs which most social change artists working to today in the USA still sing. His song, This Land Is Your Land, was sung at the at a large rock concert in Washington, DC for the inauguration of Barak Obama. Bruce Springsteen invited Pete Seeger to lead the song and hundreds of thousands of people gathered sang along. Among progressives, this song is often preferred to the National Anthem as there is no celebration of bombs bursting in air!

Phil Ochs died too soon. We miss him. Phil liked the term "topical singer" rather than "protest singer" since he felt, as do I, that the right wing used that term to scare people away from songs that simply reflected the conditions of the world. Many of the songs were "for" something, not always "against" something. Phil tried to cross over to the main stream music industry. It was a hard path. I believe that some of the more outspoken rock stars of today walk on the path that he carved. The violence at the Democratic Convention in 1968 had huge influence on Phil and he began to write more and more political songs. He was deeply concerned about the coup in Chile. After years of prolific writing, Phil became more depressed and suffered from alcoholism. In 1976, he took his own life. A few years before, I did a concert with Phil Ochs and Danielle Viglietti in San Francisco in solidarity with Chile.

Pete Seeger in our elder folk singer. He has been doing social change music since he was a boy. He is 90 years old. Pete Seeger is perhaps to us like Neruda is for you. He, along with Paul Robeson, Odetta, Harry Belafonte, June Jordon, and Bernice Reagon are our our cultural icons. Although Pete Seeger wrote songs, he mostly sang other peoples' songs. He liked to gather songs and had an amazing memory. He could remember the words to hundreds of songs. He was also a great song leader, always getting people to sing along. He sang at labor halls, demonstrations, schools, parks, as well as famous concert halls. He traveled world wide, with banjo in hand, singing. When I went to Vietnam during the war, he had just been there and my hosts looked at me with wide eyes and asked, "Tell us about Pete Seeger". When I asked what they wanted to know in particular, they said that he walked everywhere, stopping and singing. They had a hard time getting him in the car to take him to meetings with government representatives. He just wanted to sing. During the McCarthy era, when many people were called before The House of Unamerican Activities, Pete said he wanted to sing one of the songs that they were objecting to. He said it is a song about the Civil War and I dont think you will object to it. But they would not let him sing it. And he was put in jail. Pete Seeger continued to grow as an artists, open to the change movements as they came along - feminism, gay rights, environment, disability. He was not afraid of change but embraced it.

Often the women artists of this time go uncelebrated. But it should be mentioned that the work of Odetta and Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon has been hugely important in the the Civil RIghts, Peace and Feminist movements.


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