Item no. 28059
New York
Collection: Wagner Labor Archives

"The Songs of Joe Hill," People's Artists, 1955.

Born Joel Emmanuel Hägglund in Sweden in 1879, Joe Hill wrote songs inspired by his experience as an immigrant itinerant worker and was an Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) organizer in America in the early twentieth century. The satirical, “The Preacher and the Slave” and “The Rebel Girl” (inspired by organizer Elizabeth Gurley Flynn) became standards and made him a legend in his own time and after.

Published by People’s Artists in 1955, “The Songs of Joe Hill” celebrated the fortieth anniversary of Hill’s “murder at the hands of the authorities,” or his execution in November 1915 in Salt Lake City on the charge of murder. Issued around the demise of the McCarthy period, the songbook exemplifies how Hill’s work and life, and memory, became transcendent within labor and progressive movements, and to the artists of the folk music revivals.

Composer Earl Robinson’s 1936 tribute, “I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night,” or simply “Joe Hill,” immortalizes Hill, and has been covered by artists such as Paul Robeson, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez and Ani DiFranco. In the song, Hill tells the wistful narrator/dreamer: “I never died.”

“The Songs of Joe Hill” is illustrated with a drawing by artist Fred Ellis, whose work appeared in the Communist Party’s Daily Worker in the 1920s and 1930s.

This image is included in the exhibit Labor Sings! Songs from the 1930s and 1940s, featuring highlights from the extraordinary compact disc collection by Ron Cohen and Dave Samualson, Songs for Political Action.

Within Labor Arts see also the "Don't Mourn, Organize!" button and the People's Songs First Anniversary Issue featuring an illustration of Hill.  An excellent recent biography of Hill is William Adler, The Man Who Never Died (New York:  Bloomsbury Publishing, 2011).

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