The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #94830 Message #1840532
Posted By: Desert Dancer
22-Sep-06 - 01:01 AM
Thread Name: Obit: Joe Glazer (1918-2006)
Subject: RE: Obit: Joe Glazer (19 Sep 06)
Joe Glazer, 88, a Singer and Songwriter for Labor, Dies
By Douglas Martin
New York Times, September 21, 2006
Joe Glazer, the singer-songwriter known as Labor's Troubador, who played cowboy tunes on a $5.95 mail-order guitar as a boy in the Bronx, then sang songs of solidarity on picket lines and union halls and once on the White House lawn, died on Tuesday at his home in Chevy Chase, Md. He was 88.
The cause was non-Hodgkins lymphoma, his wife, Mildred, said.
First an employee of the textile workers union, then the rubber workers union, Mr. Glazer, a burly, affable man, marshaled his booming baritone and thumping guitar to rally union loyalists and sympathizers in almost every state and 60 countries.
Mr. Glazer, who called himself "an agitator for all good causes," recorded more than 30 albums, wrote a book about labor music, recorded the songs of others and helped recruit a new generation of protest singers.
In 1950, Mr. Glazer and the Elm City Four were the first to record a version of the anthem of the civil rights movement, "We Shall Overcome," according to many sources. His version of the song (originally a folk song and then a Baptist hymn before he helped popularize it as a labor union theme) began "I Will Overcome," Mrs. Glazer said.
Other sources maintain that Mr. Glazer used the more familiar title, or something close to it, in the recording, made for a two-record 78-r.p.m. set called "Eight New Songs for Labor." It was financed by the Congress of Industrial Organizations before it merged with the American Federation of Labor to form the A.F.L.-C.I.O. in 1955.
He wrote his own best-known song, "The Mills Werenï¿½t Made of Marble," in 1947. In waltz tempo, it tells of a millworkerï¿½s dream of a happy heaven where "nobody ever got tired and nobody ever grew old." It became so familiar a piece of Americana that in 1992, The New York Times called it an "old folk song" in an editorial about a museumï¿½s depiction of the harsh lives of textile workers in the 1800ï¿½s.
Mr. Glazer responded with a letter saying that usually a song is not deemed a folk song until long after the composer's death. He thanked the paper for "a nice Labor Day present."
Joseph Glazer was born in Manhattan on June 19, 1918, the son of a tailor in the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. Growing up in the Bronx, he adored cowboy crooners like Gene Autry, and imitated them with his guitar.
He graduated from Brooklyn College and was hired as a civilian radio instructor by the Army Air Corps after failing his draft physical. In 1942 he married Mildred Krauss, whom he had met at a camp in the Catskills where both were counselors. She said she was impressed by his leading the counselors in a strike.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Glazer, who was not related to the folk singer Tom Glazer, is survived by his brother, Nathan, the sociologist, of Cambridge, Mass.; his sister, Gail Klebanoss of Verona, N.J.; his son, Daniel, of Northbrook, Ill.; his daughters Emily Glazer of Silver Spring, Md., and Patti Glazer of Asheville, N.C.; and four grandchildren.
The newlyweds settled in Madison, Wis., where Mr. Glazer worked at a military airfield and did graduate work on statistical probability. He found his wife's labor economics courses more captivating, and switched to that field.
Mr. Glazer joined the textile workers as an assistant education director and seized upon his bossï¿½s suggestion to use a guitar to rally workers. He traveled widely and picked up the early version of "We Shall Overcome" from the celebrated Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tenn. It had borrowed the song from black tobacco union workers who sang it on a picket line in 1946.
Mr. Glazer used it in organizing mainly white workers, in a film he made in 1950 called "Unions at Work" and on a record of his that year. The songï¿½s current version was written by Frank Hamilton, Guy Carawan, Pete Seeger and Zilphia Horton and was adopted by demonstrators in the early days of the civil rights sit-ins in 1960 and 1961.
Mr. Glazer moved on to the rubber workers union in Akron, Ohio, where he was education director. He also performed for many liberal politicians, particularly Hubert H. Humphrey, then a Minnesota senator. In 1980 President Jimmy Carter invited him to play at the White House.
He joined the Kennedy administration in 1961 as a labor information officer for the United States Information Agency, partly because he admired its head, Edward R. Murrow. In addition to explaining America's current events to foreigners, he was frequently sent to foreign countries to sing protest songs.
Mr. Glazer resigned from the agency after the inauguration of Ronald Reagan and soon began composing songs, like "Jellybean Blues," satirizing the new president.
"Protest songs use humor, they tell about terrible conditions, but you still have to be able to laugh and sing and tell a joke," he told The Times in 1981. "You know, that's a very important thing — life goes on."