SI KAHN – LABOR ORGANIZER/SONGWRITER!
A rare example of a folk and bluegrass songwriter who’s actually worked as a union organizer, Si is one of the most prolific writers of songs for and about working people. Many of songs Si has written come directly out of the work he’s done with the labor movement.
Below is a list of songs over his decades long musical career that deal with Labor rights and workers. And below this – is a little more info about Si and his time as a Labor organizer with additional info on his progressive works.
Songs of LABOR & STRUGGLE from Si Kahn’s decades of recordings:
Aragon Mill, New Wood, 2:09
Brookside Strike, New Wood, 2:26
Lawrence Jones, New Wood, 1:54
Truck Driving Woman, New Wood, 2:10
Working Away, I’ll Be There, 2:53
Jobs With Justice, I’ll Be There, 2:29
They All Sang Bread and Roses, I Have Seen Freedom, 2:38
Molly in the Mill, In My Heart: A Retrospective, 2:44
Detroit December: In My Heart: A Retrospective, 2:57
Long Way To Harlan, Been A Long Time, 2:38 (duet with Laurie Lewis)
Brown Lung Blues, Been A Long Time, 2:45
Just A Lie, Been A Long Time, 2:26
A Time For Us All, We’re Still Here, 3:32 (union wedding song)
Hard Times, We’re Still Here, 2:31 (includes the word ‘bastards’)
The Gap ($8,825 An Hour), We’re Still Here, 3:10
We Roll the Steel, We’re Still Here 2:48
Wigan Pier, We’re Still Here, 3:04
Go To Work On Monday, Thanksgiving, 3:58
In the Spinning Mill, Thanksgiving, 2:32
Washington Square, Courage, 4:46
Sailing To Alaska, Bristol Bay, 2:53
Five Days A Week, Aragon Mill: The Bluegrass Sessions, 2:40
Gulf of Mexico, It’s A Dog’s Life, 3:04
Rats in a Maze, It’s A Dog’s Life, 4:04
“A Time For Us All” We’re Still Here!
Government on Horseback, It’s A Dog’s Life. 2:26) (video at http://bit.ly/GovtHorse)
BACKGROUND OF SI AS A LABOR ORGANIZER
Si’s union organizing career started with the United Mine Workers of Ameria (UMWA) during the Brookside Strike in “Bloody Harlan” County, Kentucky in 1973-1974. That strike is dramatically portrayed in Barbara Kopple’s film Academy award winning “Harlan County U.S.A.” and led to Si’s writing songs “Brookside Strike” and “Lawrence Jones,” the latter given a powerful rendition by the great Kathy Mattea on her 2008 album Coal.
From there Si went to the Textile Workers Union of America (TWUA) to work on the J.P. Stevens Campaign, portrayed in the film “Norma Rae” starring Sally Field. Contrary to rumor, Si is not the Jewish organizer played in the film by Ron Leibman; he got to Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, home to seven J.P. Stevens mills, right after the film ends. That experience led to dozens of songs about the mills, from Si’s signature song “Aragon Mill” to Threads, an entire album of mill songs recorded with the Kruger Brothers while they were still living in Switzerland.
Last year the Newfoundland & Labrador Council of Labor brought Si to their conference to talk about fighting back against privatization and how to write chants collectively, so you don’t need to shout “The people united/Will never be defeated” for hours on end. Please keep scrolling for a photo of Si leading a hundred Canadian union members in “Solidarity Forever” during a demonstration at the Provincial government headquarters in St. John’s.
Si was named the official Poet Laureate of the North Carolina AFL-CIO by unanimous vote of the Convention in 1985. This year, at its 40th anniversary conference, the Labor Heritage Foundation honored Si with their Joe Hill Lifetime Achievement Award.
Si also writes musicals, several of which are about legendary labor agitators, including Mother Jones in Heaven, now touring nationally featuring third generation actor Vivian Nesbitt (Breaking Bad, Longmire, Night Shift) and her guitarist/vocalist spouse John Dillon. There are many appropriate Labor Day songs on their cast album Songs of Mother Jones in Heaven, produced by double Grammy winners Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer. Be sure to check out “You Are the ‘U’ in Union” (2:31), “Stitch and Sew” (3:26), “Houses on the Hill” (3:25) and “Silk and Satin” (3:20).
Also check out “The Old Labor Hall” (4:10), “Who Will Speak for Me?” (4:25), “Shuttle and Loom” (3:33), “Union Miner” (2:26) and “Third Shift” (2:45) on Joe Jencks’ CD The Forgotten: Recovered Treasures from the Pen of Si Kahn.
Kari Estrin Mgt/Consulting
Honored at Great Labor Arts Exchange
Thursday night, June 20th, at the Great Labor Arts Exchange in Washington, DC, the Labor Heritage Foundation honored Si Kahn with the Joe Hill Award. The Foundation presents the award, named for the legendary Wobbly songwriter, as a lifetime achievement award for contributions to the labor movement and to working-class culture.
“We are presenting the Joe Hill Award tonight to one of the greatest songwriters of this generation or any generation, Si Kahn,” Labor Heritage Foundation board chair Saul Schniderman said in presenting Kahn with the Award. “So it is fitting that he receive an award in the name of Joe Hill, the famous IWW songwriter who gave his life for the cause. And because 2019 is Si Kahn’s 75th birthday, all the more reason to celebrate.
“Tonight we praise you for your musical and artistic contributions to the working class and to the labor movement. For your creative songs which tell the stories of unions, of people of color, of immigrants, of everyone struggling for human rights. For your hundreds of compositions such as ‘Aragon Mill,’ ‘Gone Gonna Rise Again,’ ‘Mississippi Summer,’ ‘Crossing the Border,’ ‘They All Sang Bread and Roses,’ and ‘People Like You. ‘
“For your many sound recordings such as New Wood, We’re Still Here, I Have Seen Freedom, Carry it On, Bristol Bay, Courage, and recently It’s a Dog’s Life with The Looping Brothers. For your playwriting, your innovative musical theater presentations which tell Labor’s Untold Story – such as Joe Hill’s Last Will, Mother Jones in Heaven, Some Sweet Day and Precious Memories. For the numerous folk and bluegrass music awards you have received, for your concerts, songbooks, and publications promoting people’s music, and for spreading the gospel of social justice through music and drama. For all these past years you have Carried it On!”
“This past week I was in Silver Spring, Maryland for the 40th anniversary of the Labor Heritage Foundation’s annual Great Labor Arts Exchange, at which they presented me with their Joe Hill Lifetime Achievement Award, a great honor,” Si wrote. “Among the things I learned from Joe Hill were that one of the best ways to make sure a political message really gets heard is to use humor and satire, and that people pay the most attention to songs when they can sing along. “
The Foundation has previously presented the Joe Hill Award to Cesar Chavez, Anne Feeney, John McCutcheon, Hazel Dickens, Charlie King, Utah Phillips, Archie Green, Joe Glazer, Faith Petric, Guy & Candie Carawan, Pete Seeger, and Anne Romaine. The Foundation began presenting the Joe Hill Award in 1989, ten years after Glazer founded the organization.
According to its website, “The Joe Hill Award honors leaders and artists who have contributed to the successful integration of arts and culture in the labor movement. Every year at the Great Labor Arts Exchange, the Labor Heritage Foundation gives the award to individuals based on their dedication, participation, and promotion of labor, labor arts, culture, organizing, and/or history. The Labor Heritage Foundation has presented this annual lifetime achievement award for work in the field of labor culture since 1989.”
If you have been waiting to buy It’s A Dog’s Life by Si Kahn & the Looping Brothers as downloads, you are now in luck.
Just go to Si’s CD Baby page and purchase the downloads of specific songs or the whole album there: https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/sikahn3
One can also stream the complete album on Spotify. https://open.spotify.com/album/4gQFyIYe9q7umwtrbOHtbF
Get your copy!
Si Kahn and the Looping Brothers performed in Morgantown, West Virginia on the “Mountain Stage” series from West Virginia Public Radio. The archive of that show is now available:
Watch now! – (Si’s section of the broadcast runs from 52:50 through 1:14)
More Si Kahn’s 75th Birthday events at MerleFest on Friday, April 26
Friday, April 26th: Wilkesboro, NC: MerleFest
Official CD Release at MerleFest, In Honor of Si’s 75th: IT’S A DOGS LIFE, the new Strictly Country Records album by The Looping Brothers, featuring Si Kahn songs that have never before been recorded.
1:10 – 1:25: Austin Stage: Si Kahn and the Looping Brothers bluegrass band from Germany
1:45 – 2:45: Traditional Stage: Si Kahn’s 75th Birthday Celebration featuring:
- Eliza Meyer
- Cathy Fink & Mary Marxer
- The Looping Brothers
plus a special appearance by the legendary “most dangerous woman in America” Mother Jones!
5:15 – 6:00: Mayes Pit: Si Kahn’s musical Mother Jones in Heaven” featuring Vivian Nesbitt & John Dillon
April 23: The Evening Muse in Charlotte, NC
The Si Kahn and the Looping Brothers head back to Kahn’s hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina to celebrate on his actual birthday on April 23 at the Evening Muse. The Evening Muse program also includes two-time Grammy winners Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer and a performance by actress Vivian Nesbitt and guitarist John Dillon of Kahn’s most recent historical musical play, “Mother Jones in Heaven.” Nesbitt and Dillon recorded the soundtrack album which debuted last month at #12 on the folk music chart. Tickets remain available via http://bit.ly/SiMuseTix.
April 26: MerleFest in Wilkesboro, NC
April 28: Mountain Stage in Morgantown, WV
Listen online or on one of 240 public radio stations
Completing the junket in grand fashion, Kahn and the Looping Brothers will perform in Morgantown, West Virginia on the “Mountain Stage” series from West Virginia Public Radio on Sunday, April 28. More than 240 public radio stations will air the show, mostly live, that also features singer-songwriter Greg Brown and popular string band, Lula Wiles.