The Almanac Singers
Formed 1940 in New York City, NY, this pioneering folk outfit was the stamping ground for the likes of leader PETE SEEGER, Lee Hays, Millard Lampell and WOODY GUTHRIE;
the latter was not on board until the following spring after their debut 78, SONGS FOR JOHN DOE (1941). JOSH WHITE and Sam Gary were contributors to the set, while the original commune-living trio often enlisted the help of new recruits such as (AGNES) “SIS” CUNNINGHAM, Carol White and Bess Hawes (sister of folklorist ALAN LOMAX) to boost their singing ranks.
Accused of being “Lefties” and “Commies” by government officials and the press, the ALMANAC SINGERS (who took their moniker from an Arkansas farmer’s register) were given a hard time by the right-wing, pro-Roosevelt majority, intent on stopping all forms of free speech and free thinking. On returning from trips to Texas and California, the group set up home inside “Almanac” apartments in New York, while work outside the studio consisted of union meetings, benefits and “hootenannies”, the latter a term invented by SEEGER and GUTHRIE.
Also produced by Keynote label owner Eric Bernay, TALKING UNION (1941), reflected more of a pro-labor stance rather than the anti-Roosevelt attacks of their previous release; war was imminent for every American while the ALMANACs were singing `Which Side Are You On?’. On two further 3x78s box sets that year, DEEP SEA CHANTEYS AND WHALING BALLADS and SOD-BUSTER BALLADS, the ALMANACs tread an easier path to Franklin Roosevelt’s musical tastes (he was said to love sea shanties!); producer ALAN LOMAX was now at the helm.
By early 1942, with the USA finally succumbing to war (after the bombing of Pearl Harbor the previous December), SEEGER and Co had a new message in the DEAR MR. PRESIDENT album – with its title track a letter to their top man – now in favour of aiding their country to “lick Mr. Hitler”, rather than their previous anti-draft missive. With the group red-baited by tabloid press-hounds for their repudiated debut set, several members were drafted into the army, all but ending a short period in their confrontational history. In the following decade when the dust had settled and America was moving into other anti-this, anti-that, but mainly anti-communist crusades, SEEGER, Hays and new recruits formed the equally challenging and political, The WEAVERS.
© MC Strong/MCS 2010/GFD // rev-up MCS May2016