Hymns & Spirituals

Patriotic Odes

Minstrels & Musicals

Protest Songs


Audio Clips

"Solidarity Forever"
Almanac Singers. Talking Union and Other Union Songs. FH 5285. Folkways Records, 1955. CD 841

QuickTime   MP3

Protest Songs: Solidarity Forever

Every period of social upheaval gives birth to songs of discontent. Some songs are crafted specifically as rallying cries to garner support for a cause or to broadcast a grievance. Others arise spontaneously in the midst of crisis, often produced by setting new topical verse to old familiar tunes. Once the crisis passes and the need for action subsides, many of these songs vanish from the oral tradition. Still, the message of the social reformers of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries-suffragists, abolitionists, labor organizers, temperance advocates-lives on in the sheet music and songsters displayed here.

The technique called parody, setting new text to pre-existing tunes, connects nearly every genre of vernacular vocal music. It was favored especially by early union organizers. Like the patriotic songsters of the Revolutionary period, union activists imposed new lyrics on revered patriotic melodies for an ironic effect. Likewise, drawing on a past context to add significance, Julia Ward Howe, writer of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic," penned new lyrics for the patriotic anthem "America" to produce her "Suffrage Song." In turn, Ralph Chaplin, songwriter for the Industrial Workers of the World, better known as the Wobblies, used the tune of Howe's "Battle Hymn of the Republic" for the workers' anthem "Solidarity Forever."

Hill, Martha. The Ghost of Uncle Tom. New York: Horace Waters, 1854.

From the Clifton Waller Barrett
Library of American Literature.

First appearing in 1839, the popular Hutchinson Family Singers of New Hampshire added new voices to the cry for social reforms. The abolitionist cause provided one of their strongest platforms, as the four siblings regaled audiences at home and abroad with an eclectic mix of sentimental ballads and protest songs. Creating a new venue for social advocacy, the family even appeared at the White House and sang for President John Tyler. Over the nearly forty years which marked their career, the Hutchinsons created a circle of friends which included Frederick Douglass, Edwin Forrest, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Abraham Lincoln.

Suffrage Song to Be Sung to the Tune of "America." [United States: n.p., 1910?].

Songs of the Workers to Fan the Flames of Discontent. Chicago: Industrial Workers of the World, 1964. From the Marvin Tatum Collection of Contemporary Literature.

The Free Soil Minstrel. New York: Martyn & Ely, 1848.

Sweney, Jno. R., and Wm. J. Kirkpatrick, eds. The Prohibition Melodist. To Which Is Added The Water Fairies: (A Temperance Cantata). Philadelphia: John J. Hood, 1888.

Purchased with the Robert and Virginia Tunstall Trust Fund.

Saunders, Nathaniel. The Temperance Songster. Providence: Handy & Higgins, 1867. From the Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature.

New York Organ Temperance Songster. New York: Oliver and Brother, 1847.

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