Si’s Acceptance Speech at Folk Alliance in 2011

This year marks the 10th anniversary of Si’s album Courage, produced by the amazing Jens Kruger of the Kruger Brothers, with liner notes by the the extraordinary Kathy Mattea. With great help from Kari Estrin, Si’s long time music career strategist and radio promoter, not only was the CD #1 for the year on The Folk Chart, Si’s song “Peace Will Rise” about The Troubles in Northern Ireland was the #1 song, and Si himself was the #1 artist.

At its annual conference in February 2011, Folk Alliance International presented Si with a special Triple Crown/Hat Trick/Trifecta award honoring this achievement. In his acceptance remarks, Si talked about the public responsibility of artists. Here’s what he said:

SI KAHN’S ACCEPTANCE SPEECH:
THE PUBLIC RESPONSIBILITY OF ARTISTS

I want to thank all of you, my sisters and brothers in this caring community we call folk music: for your songs, your persistence, your creativity, your heart—and for your passionate belief that folk music matters, that it can lift the human spirit, that through the music we create and pass on we can inspire ourselves and others to make this a better and more just world.

We who are artists enjoy remarkable access to the public: through the airwaves, which belong to all of us; through our recordings, which through the good work of our wonderful folk DJs are carried to the public on those airwaves and on the internet; through our concerts, events to which the public is invited.

Because we as artists have this access, and because we are people living in the world, we have a profound responsibility to the public as well as to ourselves to stand for something, to do our best, to be political in the broad sense of the word.

In this sense, to be political as an artist means to lift up a vision of a better and more just world.

But being “political” isn’t about being “politically correct,” or about taking particular stands.  It should never be about having our art subsumed by the political.

Rather, through our work, the political is made into art. Particular issues may come and go.  But the art we create, individually and together, will persist, and will continue to move people, both into action and into a deeper place of consciousness and hope.

Having said that, I know that some of you here tonight worry that, if the music you create and perform is seen as “political,” it won’t get the hearing you want it to have, in person or on the air.

But all artists are political, whether we mean to be or not.  If in your art you are silent about the challenging issues of our time, you have by your silence taken a political stand.

This CD Courage is an intensely political album—and it is the Folk Alliance #1 CD for 2010. 

In writing these songs, I’ve tried to imagine a kinder, more humane world, where there is love, care, community, laughter, and even Labrador retrievers who yearn to fly.

But Courage also hits hard against the abuse of women, against the violence done to poor and working people, against the imprisonment of immigrant children, against the corporate takeover of family farms.  It’s pro-union, anti-war, pro-feminist, anti-privatization.  It is a call to stand up, to speak out, to resist unjust authority, to fight for democracy.

Courage is in fact a radical album, squarely in the tradition that has given beauty and power to folk music around the world.  So many of the artists who have shaped and shared that tradition have come from the left (and in this honor roll I will only name those who are no longer among us): Leadbelly, Aunt Molly Jackson, Victor Jara, Phil Ochs, Big Bill Broonzy, Woodie Guthrie, Paul Robeson, A.L. Lloyd, Dominic Behan, Mercedes Sosa, Joe Hill, Fela, Utah Philips, Josh White, Florence Reese, Nimrod Workman, Odetta, Ewan MacColl, Joe Heaney, Stan Rogers, Hamish Henderson, Sarah Ogan Gunning, Lee Hays, John Handcox.

This radical, righteous tradition has shaped, and will continue to shape, our lives and work as folk musicians. 

These are the roots from which the music we share tonight grows and renews itself, the new wood that springs from the roots underground.

Let us always remain squarely rooted in that tradition.

Let us always raise our voices, not only in song, but in truth.

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Copyright 2011 by Joe Hill Music (ASCAP).  All rights reserved.

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