Joe Hill (1879-1915) was a labor organizer and songwriter for the Industrial Workers of the World (I.W.W.). His songs describe labor struggles with strikebreaking ("Casey Jones - The Union Scab"), the plight of the homeless and unemployed ("The Tramp"), the economic base of prostitution ("The White Slave"), and Salvation Army soup kitchens ("The Preacher and The Slave"). His execution for murder in Utah on 19 November 1915 raised Hoe Hill to powerful symbolic status within the labor movement, and many songs and poems were subsequently written about him ("Joe Hill," "Joe Hill's Ashes," "Joe Listens to the Praying") by other songwriters and authors. Both as a songwriter and as the subject of songs, Joe Hill continues to be an important figure in the United States labor history.
The songs, poems, and speeches on this album were written between 1911 and 1989; the performances were recorded between 1941 and 1990. There is a dramatic mix of styles and performance contexts, from early studio recording of a popular song ("Joe Hill," Earl Robinson) to an outdoor festival recitation ("Joe Hill's Last Will," Utah Phillips) to a college lecture (narrative, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn) to a live concert ("Paper Heart," Si Kahn) to a contemporary studio recording ("Joe Hill," Billy Bragg).
When asked "Did you know Joe Hill?" Mac McClintock replied "Yeah, I knew him well--as well as anybody could be said to know him," When you have listened to this record you will know Joe Hill, or at least what he has become. Getting to know Joe Hill is a step in acknowledging our cultural forebears. For many performers--including those appearing on this album--learning and perpetuating stories and songs of Joe Hill is kind of a rite of passage.
Now, 75 years after his death, the name Joe Hill is not known as widely as his influence is felt. Joe Hill is a model and an inspiration for those who still work to organize through music.
This recording is produced in conjunction with the Music of Struggle Program of the 1990 Festival of American Folklife sponsored by Office of Folklife Programs, Smithsonian Institution.
Billy Bragg - Joe Hill (8:26)
Utah Phillips - Joe Hill's Last Will (3:15)
Mark Levy - Joe Hill's Ashes (3:22)
"Haywire Mac" McClintock - The Preacher And The Slave (3:39)
Paul Robeson - Joe Hill (2:57)
Si Kahn - Paper Heart (2:21)
Pete Seeger And The Song-Swappers Casey Jones - The Union Scab (2:58)
Mats Paulson - Mr. Block (3:00)
Joe Glazer - Joe Hill Listens To The Praying (7:20)
Cisco Houston - The Tramp (3:30)
Earl Robinson - Joe Hill (2:33)
Alfred Esteban Cortez - The White Slave (3:27)
Elizabeth Gurley - Flynn Narrative (1:06)
Hazel Dickens - The Rebel Girl (3:01)
Entertainment Workers IU630 I.W.W. - There Is Power In A Union (3:16)
Smithsonian Folkways – C-SF 40026