Category Archives: Inspiration

Singing Changes Your Brain

Here’s a great article about some of the benefits of group singing, from Stacy Horn at Time.

As the popularity of group singing grows, science has been hard at work trying to explain why it has such a calming yet energizing effect on people. What researchers are beginning to discover is that singing is like an infusion of the perfect tranquilizer, the kind that both soothes your nerves and elevates your spirits.

Read More: Singing Changes Your Brain |

The Master of Smithsonian Folkways

Jeff Place

You probably haven’t heard of Jeff Place, but it’s likely that you’ve heard his work. Over the past three decades, Place has been the central figure researching, organizing and ultimately releasing the recordings represented in one of the world’s most important collections of 20th-century music. The Rinzler archives includes the 12 record labels now collectively known as Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, with the original Folkways acquisition featuring the key works of Guthrie, Pete Seeger and, of course, Lead Belly.

Read More: From Woody to Lead Belly, the master of Smithsonian Folkways – The Washington Post.

Solidarity Forever 100th Anniversary



On a windblown, gray Chicago day 100 years ago, January 17, 1915, Ralph Chaplin left his home on the South Side for a raucous, poor person’s rally at the city’s famous women’s center, Hull House. He asked a visiting friend he’d met organizing coal miners with Mother Jones to listen to the lyrics of a new tune he had been working on.

It is now one of the most beloved of all Union Hymns.

Solidarity Forever is also a beautiful example of the Folk Process. The melody was originally a camp meeting song, with lyrics “Oh, Brother will you meet me on Canaan’s happy shore.”

It was then borrowed for the marching song John Brown’s Body during the American Civil War, and then refined as The Battle Hymn of the Republic.

The tune is now known and sung worldwide as a rallying inspiration for working people. When we sang it at the Labor Notes conference last Summer, it was in multiple languages simultaneously, and one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard.

Read the article: ‘Solidarity Forever’ Written 100 Years Ago, Today | Labor Notes.

Once Upon A Time

“Once upon a time, wasn’t singing a part of everyday life as much as talking, physical exercise, and religion? Our distant ancestors, wherever they were in this world, sang while pounding grain, paddling canoes, or walking long journeys. Can we begin to make our lives once more all of a piece? Finding the right songs and singing them over and over is a way to start. And when one person taps out a beat, while another leads into the melody, or when three people discover a harmony they never knew existed, or a crowd joins in on a chorus as though to raise the ceiling a few feet higher, then they also know there is hope for the world.”

– Pete Seeger (from the Introduction to Rise Up Singing)

Pete Seeger and the Power of Song

The Folk Process: Guantanamera

At the center of what we call “Folk Music” is something called the “Folk Process.” The phrase was coined by Pete Seeger’s father, musicologist Charles Seeger, to describe the way songs are received, reinterpreted and transformed from one generation to the next. The history of the Cuban song Guantanamera is a pretty good example.

The song first gained popularity in Cuba on the radio programs of José Fernández Diaz, who created new verses of the song for his show based on current events of the day. As a result, the song became a vehicle for all sorts of themes and commentary through the years.

Cuban composer Julián Orbón adapted some verses of poet (and hero of Cuban independence) José Julián Martí Pérez to the song, and that was the basis for Pete Seeger’s version, which he contributed to the Peace Movement in the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis as a sign of solidarity between the American and the Cuban people. A subsequent recording of the song by The Sandpipers was a top ten hit in the United States and in Great Britain in 1966.

The video above is from a performance at Wolftrap on August 8, 1993. It’s beautiful how Pete leads the audience to sing.