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Almanac Singers


Almanac Singers

Almanac Singers

© Prism


Protest music, political singer/songwriters


The Alamanc Singers were really the first major folk music group of schooled players to organize and popularize protest music. The group sort of spun off into the Weavers (Seeger and Hays joined with others), and was followed by other folk groups like the Kingston Trio. The Almanacs can best be compared to the outside work of each of its members.

Starter CD:

The Almanac Singers - Complete General Recordings (MCA, 1996) Compare Prices

Alamac Singers Line-up:

The Almanacs were more of a collective of musicians than a solid band, though the "core" members for the majority of the group's run included Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Lee Hays, Sis Cunningham, and Millard Lampell. Other players that came and went, or recorded with various Almanacs, included Josh White, Bess Hawes, Arthur Stern, Sam Gary, Carol White, Butch Hawes, Leadbelly, Alan Lomax, Burl Ives, and doubtless countless others.

Biography of Almanac Singers:

The Almanac Singers began in 1940, much the same as it continued—in a rather informal manner. Millard Lampell and Lee Hays were roommates. Hays had been playing together with Pete Seeger for labor union events and at union halls for some time. The three men started playing out together for different political groups and labor unions.

The group maintained a very salt-of-the-earth image, portraying themselves almost as hillbillies, before breaking into slaughtering political commentary songs. Their tunes were decidedly anti-establishment, pro-union, and the group itself was supported by the Communist party. Like Joe Hill and others before them, the Almanacs adapted traditional melodies to match their contemporary protest lyrics.

In 1941, Woody Guthrie, who had befriended the trio, joined the group. He was soon followed by Sis Cunningham and folklorist Alan Lomax's sister Bess. Once Guthrie, et al, joined the group, the Almanacs seemed to catch on to the open-door policy that Woody infected everywhere he went.

Artists that joined the lineup or performed with the group included Burl Ives (who would, after the McCarthy era, become famous as an actor and country singer), blues artists Josh White and Leadbelly, and many others.

Each member of the Almanacs was quite politically active in Left Wing politics, and the group was oftentimes a sounding board for the Communist party. While they focused much of their effort on anti-war and protest music, the group changed their tune after the attack on Pearl Harbor, when they began singing anti-Hitler tunes. Their popularity fizzled after newspapers began printing stories reminding music fans of the Almanacs' pre-WWII anti-establishment protest songs.

In fact, the group's affiliation with the Communist party during this period would later mean the undoing of many of their careers. When entertainers were brought to testify in the McCarthy hearings, most of them were accused of being communists. While some, like Josh White, contended that they had been duped by the party, others like Ives provided names of communists he knew, while still others, like Pete Seeger, refused to testify, pleading the 1st Amendment—freedom to associate with any group.

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