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EXAMINING THE PEOPLE’S Song Book, 1948, I’m half expecting an investigation by the House Un-American Activities Committee. The book’s Foreward was written by eminent ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax, who got caught up in the Fifties Red Scare (along with “subversives” like Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, Lena Horne, Langston Hughes, Burl Ives, Dorothy Parker, and Pete Seeger). Wikipedia notes that Alan set sail for London on September 24, 1950, on board the steamer RMS Mauretania. Sure enough, in October FBI agents were interviewing Lomax’s friends and acquaintances.” 

So how subversive is The People’s Song Book?

The People’s Song Book, editor-in-chief Waldemar Hille representing People’s Songs, Inc., foreward by Alan Lomax, preface by B.A. Botkin, Boni and Gaer, 1948.

Following the FBI’s methods in 1950, I’ve checked out Hille and Botkin. 

Waldemar Hille. The website says, “Once an accompanist for Paul Robeson, Hille was musical director at the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee in 1946 when he heard picketing union members singing ‘We Shall Overcome.’ He brought the song to the attention of his friend, nationally known folk singer Pete Seeger, and it eventually became the anthem for the civil rights movement in the 1960s…. Hille was well-known as musical director for 35 years of the First Unitarian Church, 2936 W. 8th St., Los Angeles.” 

B. A. Botkin. Wikipedia notes that “Benjamin Albert Botkin, 1901–1975, was an American folklorist and scholar…. While many researchers viewed folklore as a relic from the past, Botkin and other New Deal folklorists insisted that American folklore played a vibrant role in the present, drawing a shared experience and promoting a democratic culture…. The American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress runs a series of lectures in his honor….”

Nothing here, folks; move along. Except, of course, for those aligned with J. Edgar Hoover, Senator Joe McCarthy, and others with no sense of decency.

People’s Songs. Botkin wrote, “People’s songs are as varied as people’s wants…. If there was ever any doubt that singing has a direct and reciprocal relation to social, economic, and political issues, attitudes, and action, that doubt should have been removed by two world wars, the great depression between wars, and the crucial fight for security, for civil liberties, and for world peace and unity that is still going on to-day.” 

Here, in Parts 1 and 2 today and tomorrow, is a sampling of The People’s Song Book, 1948. These days, their sentiments aren’t all that dated.

The Dodger Song. Aaron Copland included this one in his Old American Songs, Set 1. “This is a good example,” the book notes, “of a folk song based on local elections and social conditions.” 

This and the following score from The People’s Song Book.

Baritone Jeffery Madison and the Lake Superior Chamber Orchestra perform The Dodger Song (the second selection here) on YouTube.

‘Round and ‘Round the Picket Line. “The lively square dance melody of this old song has always tugged at the toes of dancing farmers, but its lyrics have changed with the times from Old Joe Clark to this picket line parody.”

Here’s another parody, this one from 1942. Indeed, it later found recycling in a victory celebration (at around 53 minutes into Norman Corwin’s On a Note of Triumph), which is heard occasionally these days on SiriusXM “Radio Classics”).

Tomorrow in Part 2, we’ll sing about congressmen and a landlord. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2022  

2 comments on “THE PEOPLE’S SONG BOOK, 1948 PART 1

  1. Mike B
    March 22, 2022

    Minor edit: extraneous “on.” It’s the “House Un-American Activities Committee.”

    Otherwise, interesting. Having grown up with some of those songs, look forward to further explorations of that book. Which book, of course, is probably banned (or soon will be) in multiple states dominated by the party claiming the color of its cover these days.

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