Thursday, October 07, 2010
For once I've decided to post a song not in commemoration of the singer's birthday but the subject of their song; here then is Joan Baez performing one of her classics, Joe Hill, in honour of the legendary labour leader, who was born on this day in 1879.
The historical Joe Hill died in November 1915, wrongly executed by the State of Utah for the murder of Salt Lake City butcher John G. Morrison and his son Arling - despite the fact that several eyewitnesses claimed Hill wasn't one of the two masked men who committed the crime.
The case was a cause célèbre in the days before a media circus might have unearthed the truth (or at least created reasonable doubt). Americans as diverse as President Woodrow Wilson and Helen Keller - and many others around the world as well - tried in vain to appeal to Utah governor William Spry for clemency. In the end, Joe Hill faced the firing squad; it has been said that he refused to assert his water-tight alibi (that he'd been in bed with a married woman at the time of the shootings) to save her honour and possibly her life as well.
It was around 1930 that Alfred Hayes turned Joe Hill's story into a poem, and 1936 when Earl Robinson turned that poem into a song. In the years since it's been performed by such artists as Paul Robeson and Pete Seeger, although Joan Baez's performance of it at Woodstock in August 1969 remains the gold standard. The version in the above video is mostly faithful to that earlier one - she tweaked a couple of the lyrics, but the arrangement is identical - and was recorded at a concert in aid of anti-war group Operation Ceasefire in September 2005.
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