Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Weavers

The Weavers, Pete Seeger, Lee Hayes, Fred Malterman, Ronnie Gilbert.
The Weavers, from l to r: Pete Seeger, Lee Hayes, Fred Malterman, and Ronnie Gilbert.

As part of the Labor Day Weekend, I thought I would feature the brilliant folk group that brought a great honesty and integrity to their music. They also were a great part of the historical marriage between folk music and Civil Rights, often standing up for the rights of the workers, and for those less fortunate in society. Pete Seeger, Lee Hayes, Fred Malterman, and Ronnie Gilbert combined their love of music with a strong belief that we were all created equal in this country, making music that mattered. Take, for example, a song that spoke of worker's rights, "Banks of Marble".

The group was formed in late 1948, based in Greenwich Village, New York, performing in clubs and coffeehouses to perfect their craft. They wanted to sing Folk music from around the world, as well as Blues, Gospel, children's songs, labor songs, and some great American ballads. In 1951, they were featured in movie shorts, and one of those were "Around The World".

There is something very special of with this clip of them singing the Israeli Folk song, "Tzena, Tzena, Tzena". They sing the English lyrics, but also include the original Hebrew lyrics as a nod to the newly formed country of Israel.

Now, most people might be familiar with the song "Wimoweh", in an odd sort of way. You see, people are more familiar with it as part of the melody line for the song, "The Lion Sleeps Tonight". The song was originally known as "Mbube", a song recorded by Solomon Linda and the Evening Birds for the South African Gallo Record Company in 1939. It was covered internationally by many 1950s Pop, Doo-Wop, and Folk artists. Enjoy as they perform the melody, almost sounding like a tribal chant.

The Weavers also recorded and had much success with the song first recorded in 1933 by Huddie 'Lead Belly' Ledbetter. "Goodnight Irene" became quite popular for them, with the gorgeous four-part harmonies they were able to achieve.

It is also important to remember that the voices of The Weavers were silenced in the 1950s when the House Committee on Un-American Activities were held in 1955, and set about destroying the basic freedoms this country was known for. The committee, headed up by Republican Sen. Joseph McCarthy, basically went after anyone who thought differently than themselves, and labeled them communist or subversives. This committee blacklisted many innocent people until it was rendered powerless by a court ruling six years later, in 1961. During that time, Pete Seeger was called to testify, and refused to do so, employing the First Amendment of free speech. Of course, this Fascist group held him in contempt and sentenced to a 10-year sentence in jail. So indeed, the government did try to lock up a man for what he had said, or decided to not say, in direct opposition to the First Amendment. Thankfully, his case was thrown out before he was locked up. Here is The Weavers singing "This Land Is Your Land".

It is interesting to me that over fifty years later, many in public office seem to still not understand the basic right of free speech. It gives people the right to say anything, with a few exceptions (like yelling "fire" in a crowded space), without the fear of being imprisoned by the government. No where does it say some people can say whatever stupid thing they want, and no one is allowed to disagree with their conservative asses. Ah, but I digress. The Weavers career, like many others in entertainment, was hurt by witch hunts by the fear-peddling right wing. But their music lived on much longer than the world of Joseph McCarthy and the House Committee on Un-American Activities, which has been discredited time and time again. You can purchase their music on iTunes and Amazon.


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