Our Spring Concert and Retelling Ballad for Americans

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Doors Open 7.15pm

 

Clarion and Robeson 1949

Birmingham Clarion Singers perform Ballad for Americans (with Paul Robeson listening on the left) at Birmingham Town Hall 1949

To change the lyrics to Ballad for Americans is akin to a rewrite of the UK’s national anthem – you know you are going to upset someone along the way!

Ballad for Americans was performed by The Clarion Singers at Birmingham Town Hall on Saturday May 21st, 1949 when Paul Robeson was our Honorary President. The version we are performing on March 12th 2016  was updated by Annie Banham and Jane Scott for this concert, remembering Paul Robeson 40 years after his death and the continuing struggle for freedom, equality, dignity and justice for all.

Written in 1939 by John La Touche and Earl Robinson it was originally called “Ballad for Uncle Sam”. It was performed for the first time as “Ballad for Americans” on 5th November 1939 by Paul Robeson and it then became a regular feature of his repertoire, recorded in 1940 with the American People’s Chorus. The song emphatically asserts the democratic character of American nationality from class, ethnic and racial, and religious angles.

It was sung at both the Communist and Republican conventions in 1940 and became a huge popular hit until falling into disfavour as a result of the blacklisting of Paul Robeson in the 1950s McCarthy era due to his past support for the Spanish Civil War, of communism and the Soviet Union which he refused to renounce, and his active involvement in the civil rights movement. The 1940 election was at an important moment in American history, with the rise of Nazism, and the witch hunts of the McCarthy trials. The inclusion of the 9/11 terror attacks in the retelling of Ballad for Americans is an acknowledgement of another cataclysmic moment in American history, and how in the era of George W Bush and the growth of Islamic fundamentalism, notions of freedom and nation took on new meanings.

It is now 2016, and we are in the midst of another presidential campaign.

The outgoing President is Barack Obama, the first African American to hold the office.

Hillary Rodham Clinton is standing on an “everyday Americans” platform, with liberal policies on welfare and education, but more reactionary views on taxation, foreign policy and military powers. Her husband was the 42nd President of the United States.

Bernie Sanders is a self-described socialist, progressive, and proponent of workplace democracy, LGBT rights and the eradication of institutional racism. His elder brother is Health Spokesperson for the Green Party of England and Wales.

In the Republican corner we have Donald Trump, a right wing “personality politician”, with some worrying views on immigration, foreign policy and human rights. His grandfather worked as a Klondike Gold Rush restaurateur and brothel keeper.

“The artist must take sides. He must elect to fight for freedom or slavery. I have made my choice. I had no alternative.” Paul Robeson 1898 – 1976.

over-land-over-sea-cover

Also at the event,  DIY Poets will be performing several of their original works, and the book

Over Land Over Sea – poems for those seeking refuge

will be available for sale.

More here:  Morning Star article 7 Jan 2016 Solidarity which sings