Origin Of The Labor Protest Song "Which Side Are You On?" (information, original song lyrics, & Natalie Merchant sound file) - Bag Avatof Anonymous - Latest Quotes Photos

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Saturday, July 20, 2019

Origin Of The Labor Protest Song "Which Side Are You On?" (information, original song lyrics, & Natalie Merchant sound file)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part I of a three part pancocojams series on the protest song "Which Side Are You On?".

Part I presents information about the origin of "Which Side Are You On?". The original lyrics for this song and a YouTube example of Natalie Merchant singing a cover of this song are included in this post.

Click https://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2019/07/which-side-are-you-on-protest-song.html for Part II of this series. Part III presents examples of 1960s and 1970s United States Civil Rights (African American protests) examples of "Which Side Are You On"?.

Click https://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2019/07/post-1970s-non-labor-movement-examples.html for Part III of this series. Part III presents information about and a few examples of "Which Side Are You On?" being sung during post 1970s non-Labor movement protests in the United States.
The content of this post is presented for historical and socio-cultural purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to Florence Reece, the composer of this song, for her musical legacy. Thanks to Natalie Merchant for her musical legacy and thanks to all those who are quoted in this post. Thanks also to the publishers of these videos on YouTube and thanks to all those who sang and are still singing "Which Side Are You On" in their protests for labor rights and civil rights.

Excerpt #1
From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Which_Side_Are_You_On%3F
" "Which Side Are You On?" is a song written in 1931 by Florence Reece, the wife of Sam Reece, a union organizer for the United Mine Workers in Harlan County, Kentucky.

In 1931, the miners and the mine owners in southeastern Kentucky were locked in a bitter and violent struggle called the Harlan County War. In an attempt to intimidate the family of union leader Sam Reece, Sheriff J. H. Blair and his men, hired by the mining company, illegally entered their home in search of Reece. Reece had been warned in advance and escaped but his wife, Florence, and their children were terrorized. That night, after the men had gone, Florence wrote the lyrics to "Which Side Are You On?" on a calendar that hung in their kitchen. She took the melody from a traditional Baptist hymn, "Lay the Lily Low", or the traditional ballad "Jack Munro".[1]

Reece supported a second wave of miner strikes circa 1973, as recounted in the documentary Harlan County USA. She and others performed "Which Side Are You On?" a number of times throughout. Reece recorded the song later in life, and it can be heard on the album Coal Mining Women.”...

Excerpt #2
From https://longreads.com/2018/08/29/history-of-american-protest-music-which-side-are-you-on/ A History of American Protest Music: Which Side Are You On? By Tom Maxwell, 8/29/2018
"Just as we were in the 1930s and ’60s, America is suffering a moral crisis. We have to decide which side we are on: hate and exclusion, or justice, inclusion, and democracy?

...[Florence] Reece couldn’t have known that what she created would become the most durable anthem of the labor movement, and a template for protest songs for decades to come. “Which Side Are You On?,” written from acute personal trauma, has been universalized, both in lyric and musical modality. After making its way out of Harlan County and into a New York recording studio, it got modified to fit the message of countless underdog protagonists.

“Which Side Are You On?” quickly became an anthem in the union halls and picket lines. Jim Garland, another organizer and songwriter, immediately used it as a tool for protest.


In December, 1931, Garland and his cousin Aunt Molly Jackson travelled to New York to give concerts to raise money for the striking miners. They performed “Which Side Are You On?”, where it ultimately caught the ear of Pete Seeger.

By the early 1940s, Seeger was changing the face of American popular culture. He formed a band called the Almanac Singers with folk hero Woody Guthrie and singers Lee Hays and Millard Lampell. They sang folk songs — some they wrote and some learned from others — that were pro-union and anti-war. “They did not perform in costume, either of the concert stage or of the radio barn dance,” wrote Robert S. Cantwell in When We Were Good: The Folk Revival, “and yet their street clothes, in which they ordinarily appeared, ranged from pieces of business suits in various permutations and combinations to dungarees, workshirts, and construction boots...”


Jim Garland, who brought “Which Side Are You On?” to New York, stayed and became part of the Greenwich Village folk scene, one largely founded by people like Seeger and Guthrie. It was an alternative world, one informed by a mix of races and cultures and classes. These folk artists collected and composed songs of the people, performed them in small clubs, union halls, and regional festivals, and made them available through recordings, virtually none of which were available to Florence Reece back in Kentucky.

[Pete] Seeger had a knack for popularization. Remember, it was he who changed “I Will Overcome” to “We Shall Overcome.” Seeger also identified “Which Side Are You On?” as being pliable to other applications. He penned some new lyrics in support of the National Maritime Union in 1947:

The men who hate our union, they say we dodged the draft

Not one of those damn liars knows his forward from his aft


Through the rolling years, “Which Side Are You On?” has been adapted and covered by myriad artists, including Dropkick Murphys and Ani DiFranco. The question renews itself as each generation struggles against inequality.

The melody proved as durable as the lyrics proved malleable. Although Reece claimed to have borrowed the melody from an old Baptist hymn, the truth is much less sanctified. A listen to an a capella version of “Ho Lily Ho” by Appalachian singer Sarah Hawkes reveals the song’s origin. This is an ancient tune, also known as “Jack Monroe.” In most of its iterations, the song tells the story of a young woman who dresses like a man to find her lost lover in battle. In every version, fearlessness defines her”...
An excerpt of this article that pertains to how this song was adapted for African American protest is included in Part II of this pancocojams series.

(Florence Reece)

Come all of you good workers
Good news to you I'll tell
Of how that good old union
Has come in here to dwell

Which side are you on?
Which side are you on?
Which side are you on?
Which side are you on?

My daddy was a miner
And I'm a miner's son
And I'll stick with the union
Till every battle's won

They say in Harlan County
There are no neutrals there
You'll either be a union man
Or a thug for J.H. Blair

Oh, workers can you stand it?
Oh, tell me how you can
Will you be a lousy scab
Or will you be a man?

Don't scab for the bosses
Don't listen to their lies
Us poor folks haven't got a chance
Unless we organize

Source: http://unionsong.com/u015.html


Natalie Merchant - Which Side Are You On? HQ audio. Lyrics on screen.

NewRockGenerator N.R.G, Published on Aug 27, 2018

This concludes Part I of this two part pancocojams series.

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