J.J. Goldberg

Holiday Songs: Robeson's 'Joe Hill,' Solidarity in WI

By J.J. Goldberg

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Joe Hill

Some songs for the holiday. First, Paul Robeson’s immortal rendition of “The Ballad of Joe Hill.” It still has incredibly moving power. (Read this and this for some fascinating comment on Joe.)

Then, Harry “Haywire Mac” McClintock (author of “The Big Rock Candy Mountain”) sings Joe Hill’s “The Preacher and the Slave” (“Pie in the Sky When You Die”), after reminiscing about the day that Joe first brought the lyrics into IWW’s Portland, Ore., headquarters and Mac was able to perform it in public for the first time.

Then, two versions of “Solidarity Forever.” One is sung by Leonard Cohen, surprisingly (but appropriately, it turns out) hauntingly, almost as a lament. The second is belted out by Wisconsin state employees inside the state capitol rotunda in December 2011, complete with updated lyrics and some unpleasant interactions with the police. And, a few days after that, in January 2012, watch the Red Raiders Marching Band from Pulaski High School in Wisconsin, marching in the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena and stopping in front of the reviewing stand to play Woody Guthrie’s “Union Maid” (lyrics). The moment is completely lost on the local TV newscasters.

Last, a slanderous but highly entertaining ditty, “The Cloakmakers’ Union,” attacking the leaders of the great Jewish-led garment unions (“the Dubinskys”) and the Socialist Party (“the Hillquits” and “the Thomases”). It was made up in the late 1920s by Yiddish communists, and is sung here tongue-in-cheek in the early 1950s by Dubinskyites Joe Glazer and Abe Brumberg. (The version I learned from my father, a lifelong employee of said cloakmakers’ union, was a little different. It went: “…The right-wing cloakmakers and the Socialist fakers are a bunch of strike-breakers by the bosses…”)

Paul Robeson sings “The Ballad of Joe Hill”:

Haywire Mac McClintock remembers Joe Hill and sings “The Preacher and the Slave” (“Pie in the Sky When You Die”):

Leonard Cohen sings “Solidarity Forever”:

Wisconsin state employees sing “Solidarity Forever” at the state capitol, December 2011:

Red Raiders High School Marching Band from Pulaski, Wisconsin, stops in the middle of the Rose Bowl parade to play “Union Maid” to the reviewing stand.

Joe Glazer and Abe Brumberg sing “The Cloakmakers’ Union”:


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