Thursday, September 21, 2006

Joe Glazer "Labor's Trobadour" Dies

Joe Glazer died on September 19 at the age of 88. He was known as "labor's trobadour." Over the years Joe Glazer wrote over 100 labor and protest songs. He performed at union conventions, rallies and on picketlines, too numerous to mention. He sang at the historic merger of the AFL and CIO; he sang at Walter Reuther's funeral. He was the first to record "We Will (Shall) Overcome." He wrote some great anti-Stalinist songs.

"In 1950 Glazer made his first album, 'Eight New Songs for Labor,' for the C.I.O. It included We Will Overcome, the previously unrecorded labor version of the old hymn. During a Southern C.I.0. drive, Glazer taught the song to country singer Texas Bill Strength, who cut his own version on a custom pressing that later was picked up by 4-Star Records." [Strength was on the staff of the CIO which syndicated his transcriptions on 120 radio stations.] With a change in verbs, it became the song of the modern civil rights movement.
In 1952, Glazer and Bill Friedland responded to the "torturous twists and turns of the Communist Party line during the past thirty years" with Ballads for Sectarians.' A biting, satirical album it was one of the few folks recordings to emerge from the non-Communist left.
All but one song from Ballads is on the Bear Family collection, Songs for Political Action. Here are the songs included:
  • Old Bolshevik Cong
  • The Cloakmaker's Union
  • Land of the Daily Worker
  • Our Line's Been Changed Again
  • Unite for Unity
  • Bill Bailey (the Ultimate Sectarian)
  • The Last International (Joe Glazer)
The missing song is an anti-Stalin parody called "Little Joe the Rustler" written by Joe Glazer.

Those songs and some others performed by Glazer and Sovietologist Abram Brumberg can be found on a CD My Darling Party Line: Irreverent Songs, Ballads,and Airs available through Smithsonian Folkways.

Glazer founded Collector Records in 1970 to distribute his own recordings of labor songs and those of other younger and newer performers that he had met through his work. Many of these artists he met through the Labor Heritage Foundation, which he founded in 1978, and its yearly Great Labor Arts Exchange. He had been frustrated that his early recordings were for labels that had either gone out business or dropped the titles. Having his own label gave him control and guaranteed the music would be preserved.

The Collector Records catalogue is now available through Smithsonian Folkways. Many of his CD's can also be ordered through Labor Heritage

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