The Power of Song: Politics of Inclusion and Music as History Lesson

    Publikation: Konferencebidrag uden forlag/tidsskriftPaper uden forlag/tidsskriftForskningpeer review


    My paper engages with the triple CD-set of gems from the American songbook, entitled Song of America (2007) that was created on the initiative of Janet Reno, former Attorney General of the United States, by Ed Pettersen, her niece’s musician husband. The set contains American songs in new versions and new settings culled from every part of American history. Common to each disc in this set is the feeling of careful attention to inclusiveness, solidary and sympathy for the down-and-out, the uprooted and the mobile citizens of America. In this presentation the focus will be particularly on those songs that depict the migrant experience and the function of song as community builder, even in a situation when one is forced by circumstance to leave the safe haven of home and strike out for unknown territory. The individual numbers on this compilation that deal with the reality of migration come from a range of periods in American history, but none is better represented than the Depression Era of the 1930s. Songs such as “Seven Cent Cotton and Forty Cent Meat” (which we hear in Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath was sung in the impromptu camp communities that sprung up along the road to California for the migrant families) is featured in a new arrangement by Jim Lauderdale and bookended on the CD by Woody Guthrie’s “Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)” about Mexican migrants being forcibly repatriated by airplane, and “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime”, a song of urban poverty and potential charity from 1930. The representations of community and the survival strategies suggested by these songs are designed to teach an effective history lesson for our contemporary age, when the American middle class is again dwindling and beset with dangers of social déroute from all sides. In the larger context of the CD-set the songs from and about the Depression Era are placed in the company of other songs about migration and questing for truth and sanctuary, whether of a religious or socio-economic nature. The paper will attempt an evaluation of the efficacy of music and song in the teaching of American history and in community-building activism.
    Publikationsdatomaj 2016
    Antal sider8
    StatusUdgivet - maj 2016
    BegivenhedMaple Leaf and Eagle: Whose North America? Identities, Agency, and Belonging - University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
    Varighed: 18 maj 201620 maj 2016
    Konferencens nummer: 16th biennial


    KonferenceMaple Leaf and Eagle
    Nummer16th biennial
    LokationUniversity of Helsinki


    • Song lyrics
    • Identity
    • American Studies