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Origins: We Shall Overcome-now in public domain


Related threads:
Lyr Add: I'll Overcome Someday (Tindley) (1)
Lyr/Chords Req: We Shall Overcome?? (2)
We Shall Overcome--Dylan/Baez (3)

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Subject: Origins: We Shall Overcome
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 29 Aug 13 - 12:28 AM

There are plenty of forum mentions here of the great song, We Shall Overcome, but no thread that looks at it in particular. Associated with today's 50th anniversary of the 1963 march on Washington, D.C. for "Jobs and Freedom", NPR has brought back a 1999 in-depth story on the song, from the series "NPR 100" -- "100 of the greatest American musical works of the 20th century".

'Catter Frank Hamilton gets a mention...

If you go to the link, note that the top audio link is to a condensed version. There is an audio link further down on the left to the full 20-minute original presentation.

~ Becky in Hackettstown, lately

The Inspiring Force Of 'We Shall Overcome'

Noah Adams, NPR

It is not a marching song. It is not necessarily defiant. It is a promise: "We shall overcome someday. Deep in my heart, I do believe."

It has been a civil rights song for 50 years now, heard not just in the U.S. but in North Korea, in Beirut, in Tiananmen Square, in South Africa's Soweto Township. But "We Shall Overcome" began as a folk song, a work song. Slaves in the fields would sing, 'I'll be all right someday.' It became known in the churches. A Methodist minister, Charles Albert Tindley, published a version in 1901: "I'll Overcome Someday."

The first political use came in 1945 in Charleston, S.C. There was a strike against the American Tobacco Co. The workers wanted a raise; they were making 45 cents an hour. They marched and sang together on the picket line, "We will overcome, and we will win our rights someday."

In 1947, two of the union members from South Carolina traveled to the town of Monteagle, Tenn., for a workshop at the Highlander Folk Center. Blacks and whites had been meeting together about labor issues at the Highlander for many years. It was believed at Highlander that the people who have the problems are the ones who have the answers. It was important to talk together, and especially to sing. The tobacco workers brought their song to Tennessee, and Zilphia Horton, Highlander's music director, started using it in workshops in Tennessee and beyond.

On a tape from the late 1940s, Horton can be heard speaking with a group of farm workers in Montana. "This is the song of 'We Will Overcome' — it's a spiritual," she says. "I sang it with many different nationality groups. And it's so simple, and the idea's so sincere, that it doesn't matter that it comes from the tobacco workers. When I sing it to people, it becomes their song."

In 1947, Horton went to New York City, as she did every year, to raise money for Highlander. She sang the song there for Pete Seeger, who adopted it and added his own touches.

"She had a beautiful alto voice and sang it with no rhythm," Seeger says. "I gave it kind of ump-chinka, ump-chinka, ump-chinka, ump-chinka, ump-chinka, ump. It was medium slow as I sang it, but the banjo kept a steady rhythm going.

"I remember teaching it to a gang in Carnegie Hall that year, and the following year I put it in a little music magazine called People's Songs," Seeger adds. "Over the years, I remember singing it two different ways. I'm usually credited with changing ['Will'] to 'Shall,' but there was a black woman who taught at Highlander Center, a wonderful person named Septima Clark. And she always liked shall, too, I'm told."

"Electrifying Feeling"

In Southern California in the early 1950s, the song reached Guy Carawan. He was finishing graduate work in sociology at UCLA and doing some singing himself. He also learned about the Highlander Center in Tennessee, and that's where he ended up. Candi Carawan and her husband have been teaching together at Highlander for many years now. They met as the center's focus was shifting to civil rights, and "We Shall Overcome" was about to become an inspiring force.

"I first heard this song from a friend of mine, Frank Hamilton. He taught me this song, and he also had put some chords to it [on guitar]," Guy Carawan says. "When I came to Highlander in 1959, Zilphia Horton had died, and I had some singing and musical skills and they needed somebody there. So by the time I came to Highlander, I was playing it with the guitar like that."

Candi Carawan, too, remembers the first time she heard the song. A California transplant like Guy, she'd gotten involved with sit-ins in Nashville in 1960 and visited Highlander for a weekend event for students from various cities who'd been carrying on similar demonstrations.

"Guy was there trying to find out what songs we were using as part of our demonstrations — and mostly we didn't have a lot of songs," Candi says. "He taught us a number of songs that weekend, and one of them was 'We Shall Overcome.' And I can remember this electrifying feeling when we heard it, that that song just said exactly what we were doing and what we were feeling."

In the weeks that followed, Guy Carawan met other student leaders who were convening their own gatherings.

"And then at a certain point," he says, "the young singers, who knew a lot of a cappella styles, they said, 'Lay that guitar down, boy. We can do the song better.' And they put that sort of triplet [rhythm] to it and sang it a cappella with all those harmonies. [It became] a style that some very powerful young singers got behind and spread."

Organized in Albany, Ga., by the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, The Freedom Singers were Cordell Reagon, Charles Neblett, Rutha Harris and Bernice Johnson-Reagon (then just Bernice Johnson — she was later married to Cordell Reagon for several years).

Johnson-Reagon was a preacher's daughter and knew the song as "I Will Overcome." She recalls the change to "We Shall Overcome" as a concession that helped bring whites and blacks closer in the civil rights struggle.

"The left, dominated by whites, believed that in order to express the group, you should say 'we,' " explains Johnson-Reagon. "In the black community, if you want to express the group, you have to say 'I,' because if you say 'we,' I have no idea who's gonna be there. Have you ever been in a meeting, people say, 'We're gonna bring some food tomorrow to feed the people.' And you sit there on the bench and say, 'Hmm. I have no idea.' It is when I say, 'I'm gonna bring cake,' and somebody else says, 'I'll bring chicken,' that you actually know you're gonna get a dinner. So there are many black traditional collective-expression songs where it's 'I,' because in order for you to get a group, you have to have I's."

Johnson-Reagon says she was still singing "I Will Overcome" when the civil rights organizers came to Albany. It was Cordell Reagon who persuaded her to make the switch to "we" — a lesson, she says, he'd picked up from Highlander.

"And, you know, we'd been singing the song all our lives, and here's this guy who just learned the song and he's telling us how to sing it," Johnson-Reagon says. "And you know what I said to myself? 'If you need it, you got it.' What that statement does for me is document the presence of black and white people in this country, fighting against injustice. And you have black people accepting that need because they were also accepting that support and that help."

A Song That Sustains Through Struggle

On March 15, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson appeared before Congress and 70 million Americans watching on television, calling for legislation that would ensure every citizen the right to vote.

"It is the effort of American Negroes to secure for themselves the full blessings of American life," Johnson declared in the speech. "Their cause must be our cause, too, because it's not just Negroes, but really, it's all of us who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome."

There may have been some in the civil rights movement who felt that President Johnson co-opted the phrase. But John Lewis watched the speech that night with Martin Luther King Jr. About the president, Lewis later wrote, "His were the words of a statesman and, more, they were the words of a poet," adding, "Dr. King must have agreed. He wiped away a tear at the point where Johnson said the words 'We shall overcome.' "

John Lewis is now a congressman from Georgia. In his book Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement, he tells of joining the civil rights cause as a teenager off the farm in Alabama. He became a leader. He was jailed; he was beaten. His skull was fractured in Selma on the day that was called Bloody Sunday. He says "We Shall Overcome" sustained him throughout the years of struggle — especially those moments when demonstrators who had been beaten, arrested or detained would stand and sing it together.

"It gave you a sense of faith, a sense of strength, to continue to struggle, to continue to push on. And you would lose your sense of fear," Lewis says. "You were prepared to march into hell's fire."

The song was carried by the civil rights movement throughout the South, a song that rose in air that was tinged with tear gas, that was a murmur of men and women at night in a Southern jail, and an affirmation sung by hundreds of thousands within sight of the Capitol dome.

And its power and promise turned up in the speeches and sermons of King — including one on March 31, 1968, just days before his death.

"There's a little song that we sing in our movement down in the South. I don't know if you've heard it," King told the Memphis crowd. "You know, I've joined hands so often with students and others behind jail bars singing it: 'We shall overcome.' Sometimes we've had tears in our eyes when we joined together to sing it, but we still decided to sing it: 'We shall overcome.' Oh, before this victory's won, some will have to get thrown in jail some more, but we shall overcome."

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Subject: RE: Origins: We Shall Overcome
Date: 29 Aug 13 - 12:59 AM

Wiki has this to say

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Subject: RE: Origins: We Shall Overcome
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 29 Aug 13 - 01:23 AM

Yeah, that entry is pretty comprehensive, Guest! I'm impressed.

~ Becky in Hackettstown, lately

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Subject: RE: Origins: We Shall Overcome
From: Stringsinger
Date: 29 Aug 13 - 11:57 AM

Noah Adams has the most definitive explanation so far for the history of the song.
Desert Dancer, thanks for posting this.

Ironically, when I put the chords to it, I was influenced by the gospel music I was hearing
at the Saint Paul Baptist Church of Los Angeles on Central Avenue. I sang it as "We Will Overcome" after hearing some kids from Highlander sing it in Topanga Canyon, outside of L.A. The irony of this situation is that I believe that I put the "black" back in the song through the chords, a minor and a double dominant. It's not a three chord song. I based my chord changes on an old gospel song written by Stuart Hamblen (a country singer). That song was used as a theme song for the Saint Paul Baptist 100 piece choir in it's closing.
That's one reason it became an anthem for black people and for all of us. I hasten to say that no one person is responsible for this song (it's a true folk song).

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Subject: RE: Origins: We Shall Overcome
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 29 Aug 13 - 01:10 PM

Postings of hymn and gospel variations that led to the final song would be welcome.

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Subject: RE: Origins: We Shall Overcome
From: Stringsinger
Date: 29 Aug 13 - 06:23 PM

Reverend Tindley's "I'll Be All Right Some Day".
Mahalia sings "I'll Overcome Some Day".
I've heard about a lady named Shropshire who sang a variation of it in '47. Not sure
what she called the song.

One thing to be established at the outset. Pete Seeger arranged for the money accrued
by "We Shall Overcome" to be donated to the Southern Christian Leadership Council,
Dr. King's organization and none of the copyright holders, myself included, had any
trouble with that. It was fitting as a tribute to Dr. King.

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Subject: RE: Origins: We Shall Overcome
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 29 Aug 13 - 10:18 PM

I just saw "Lee Daniels' The Butler" for the second time this evening and noted the credit for "We Shall Overcome" included the various contributors (Horton, Carawan, Hamlton, and Seeger), the source song from Tindley, and the fact that proceeds go to the Southern Christian Leadership Council. (A lot to read as it scrolled by on the screen!)

~ Becky in Hackettstown, NJ

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Subject: RE: Origins: We Shall Overcome
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 29 Aug 13 - 10:22 PM

Actually, Wikipedia says, "Their royalties go to the "We Shall Overcome" Fund, administered by Highlander under the trusteeship of the "writers" (i.e., the holders of the writers' share of the copyright, who, strictly speaking, are the arrangers and adapters). Such funds are used to give small grants for cultural expression involving African Americans organizing in the U.S. South." (And I believe it was actually some reference to Highlander that I saw in the credits.)

~ B in H, NJ

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Subject: RE: Origins: We Shall Overcome
From: Stringsinger
Date: 30 Aug 13 - 08:52 AM

This might be a new arrangement by the publishers of the copyright owners (publishers).
If so, the money is still going to the right place. Highlander is one of the most important cultural institutions in America and it's history should be known by all.

I have to make a correction. I said:

" I based my chord changes on an old gospel song written by Stuart Hamblen (a country singer). That song was used as a theme song for the Saint Paul Baptist 100 piece choir in it's closing."

I cited the wrong song. The choir also sang "There is No Secret" but the closing theme
and the one most influencing my approach to "We Shall Overcome" was called
"Precious Memories" which was the closing song. This is not however the hymn called
"Precious Memories, How They Linger" written by John Wright in 1925. This was another
one with the same title which I have searched for on the Net in vain. Early radio broadcasts
might have it if I can find them of the St. Paul Choir.

One notable selection on recording, I think Pete Seeger played it for me years ago, was
Mahalia Jackson singing "Didn't It Rain" backed up by the St. Paul Choir. I haven't heard that for years but it was that memorable.

I also need to say that when I learned "We Will Overcome" I had not known of or heard
of the antecedents of the song such as Tindley or the North Carolina Tobacco Workers or Shropshire or anyone. People's Songs magazine carried a version of "We Will Overcome"
which in my opinion was not notable. My source was a one time hearing of the song
from kids who were at Highlander. Guy Carawan and I worked on the lyrics together
before he left for Greensboro.

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Subject: RE: Origins: We Shall Overcome
From: Stringsinger
Date: 30 Aug 13 - 09:34 AM

This is the style that influenced my approach to "We Will Overcome". It's not the song
I had in mind but the style is definitely there.
St. Paul Choir

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Subject: RE: Origins: We Shall Overcome
From: Stringsinger
Date: 30 Aug 13 - 09:39 AM

Here's a definitive version of "Didn't It Rain" by the St. Paul Choir.
Didn't It Rain

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Subject: RE: Origins: We Shall Overcome
From: GUEST,Autoharper
Date: 30 Aug 13 - 11:07 PM

Rev. Charles Tindley (1851-1933), the self-proclaimed "Prince of Preachers," published "I Will Overcome Someday" in 1901. Tindley consciously or unconsciously borrowed parts of his melody from the 18th-century Catholic hymn "O Sanctissima," translated into German as "O du frohliche." I have read that it remains a popular Catholic Marian hymn to this day:

   O sanctissima, O piissima,
   Dulcis Virgo Maria.
   Mater amata, intemerata,
   Ora, ora pro nobis

-Adam Miller

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Subject: RE: Origins: We Shall Overcome
From: Stringsinger
Date: 31 Aug 13 - 06:27 PM

Thanks, Adam. I remember hearing that tune. At the time I messed with the tune,
I didn't have any idea or source like that but found all of this out later. That underscores for me that this is a real folk song with variants.

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Subject: RE: Origins: We Shall Overcome
From: Stringsinger
Date: 31 Aug 13 - 06:59 PM

Bing does a pretty good job on Sanctissima.
Bing Will Overcome
The Marian Hymn
Here's a Beethoven chart. Ja wohl!

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Subject: RE: Origins: We Shall Overcome
From: Stringsinger
Date: 31 Aug 13 - 07:01 PM

Ludwig Will Overcome

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Subject: RE: Origins: We Shall Overcome
From: Stringsinger
Date: 01 Sep 13 - 10:52 AM

Now here's the song that influenced me to the chord changes in "We Shall Overcome".
I am continually blown away by the genius of the African-American tradition in gospel
music (and jazz).
This is the closest rendition to what I heard by the St. Paul Baptist Church of Los Angeles

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Subject: RE: Origins: We Shall Overcome
From: Stringsinger
Date: 01 Sep 13 - 01:34 PM


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Subject: Pete Seeger, and Zhu Yufu
From: Haruo
Date: 01 Feb 14 - 11:09 AM

Michael Hawn (a hymnologist professor at Southern Methodist University) recently posted Pete Seeger's contribution to 'We Shall Overcome'.

On the flip side of "Origins", consider the role of "We Shall Overcome" as one of the origins (the origin on the tune side) of the Zhu Yufu (朱虞夫, or Yufu Zhu) protest song "是時候了" — for writing which he was sentenced to, and I believe is serving, a seven-year prison sentence.

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Subject: RE: Origins: We Shall Overcome
From: Stringsinger
Date: 01 Feb 14 - 04:02 PM

Remember that the song Pete printed in People's Songs book was "We Will Overcome", not "We Shall Overcome" changed by Pete to "sing better".

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Subject: RE: Origins: We Shall Overcome
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 15 Mar 15 - 06:23 PM

Some origins, and some opinion...

~ Becky in Long Beach

Birth of a Freedom Anthem

New York Times MARCH 14, 2015

FRESNO, Calif. — FIFTY years ago today, on March 15, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson announced plans to submit a new voting rights bill before a joint session of Congress. His speech came after several weeks of violence in and around Selma, Ala., that had taken the lives of two civil rights activists and left dozens of others bloodied. Seventy million Americans watched on television as Johnson, a Texas Democrat who had supported segregationist policies early in his career, proclaimed racial discrimination not a "Negro problem" but "an American problem." It is not, he said, "just Negroes, but really it is all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice." Then, after a pause, he added, "And we shall overcome."

Few Americans could have missed the significance of these four words. Since the early 1960s, "We Shall Overcome" had served as the unofficial anthem of the civil rights movement. Protesters sang the song during the 1963 March on Washington, the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer campaign and the demonstrations in Selma. As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. watched the broadcast in a Selma living room, a tear ran down his cheek.

And yet encapsulated in this famous song is a story that escaped many Americans then, and that continues to escape many today, one that should not be lost as we commemorate the golden era of the civil rights movement.

"We Shall Overcome" has roots in the antebellum period, when slaves sang "No More Auction Block," a spiritual with a similar message and tune. By the late 19th century, black churchgoers across the South embraced "I'll Be All Right," a song almost identical in rhythm and melody to the civil rights anthem. And in 1900 a black Methodist minister, Charles Albert Tindley, published a hymn titled "I'll Overcome Some Day," which included the line, "If in my heart, I do not yield, I'll o-vercome some day."

But "We Shall Overcome" antecedents weren't confined to black churches. In the first half of the 20th century, Southern labor activists took them up, too. When coal mine operators in Birmingham, Ala., proposed a wage cut in 1908, more than 10,000 black and white members of District 20 of the United Mine Workers defied the dictates of segregation and the heavy hand of company guards and state troops and staged a two-month strike. Although the union was defeated, the laborers sustained themselves throughout their ordeal by singing "We Will Overcome Some Day."

"Dear Brothers," one miner entreated in 1909, "let us not drop that old song, but still sing it. If we stick together we will overcome some day."

His prediction was tested four decades later in Charleston, S.C., when 1,100 black and white employees of the American Tobacco Company cigar factory struck for higher pay and better working conditions. For five cold and rainy months starting in October 1945, the picketers, most of whom were African-American women, marched from dawn until dusk. Each night Lucille Simmons, a black laborer with a captivating alto voice, led the protesters in singing "I Will Overcome," a later version of "I'll Be All Right," to boost morale. Along the way, strikers crafted new verses — "we will win our rights," "we will win this fight," "we will overcome" — that gave the song still greater collective and political meaning.

The tobacco strike ended in March 1946 with the protesters' gaining modest concessions. Not long after, a few participants, including an African-American woman named Anna Lee Bonneau, traveled to the Highlander Folk School in the rolling foothills of southeastern Tennessee, where they shared their song with the school's white music director, Zilphia Horton. Co-founded in 1932 by Ms. Horton's husband, Myles, Highlander brought union organizers together for interracial residential workshops. Zilphia made music a staple of the curriculum and, over the next decade, she taught "We Will Overcome" to countless labor and civil rights activists, among them the folk singer Pete Seeger, who changed its chorus and title to "We Shall Overcome." During Highlander's 25th anniversary celebration in 1957, Seeger performed the song for King, who remarked the following day, "That song really sticks with you, doesn't it?"

Three years later, Guy Carawan, a white California folklorist who succeeded Zilphia Horton as Highlander's music director, introduced "We Shall Overcome" to members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee at their founding meeting in Raleigh, N.C. The song spread quickly, its redemptive message ringing out from picket lines, Freedom Rides and jail cells. It became the "Marseillaise" of the civil rights movement.

The story of "We Shall Overcome" illuminates the rich history of the black freedom struggle. The movement did not, as popular memory would have it, begin in 1954 with Brown v. Board of Education and end when Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act on Aug. 6, 1965. Nor were its proponents focused solely on civil and political discrimination. Instead, the civil rights movement built on a vibrant interracial unionism that had challenged the South's low-wage economy for a half century. This "long civil rights movement," as historians call it, intertwined issues of race and class, insisting that economic disenfranchisement was neither separate from, nor less important than, political disenfranchisement.

This is not to minimize the significance of the Voting Rights Act. Indeed, in light of recent efforts to restrict black access to the polls — abetted by the 2013 Supreme Court decision that freed some states to change their voting laws without federal approval — celebrating, and defending, this measure seems more important than ever.

But an accurate rendering of the civil rights movement must include more than victories like the Voting Rights Act. From the coal fields of Birmingham to the foothills of Tennessee to the streets of Selma, those who sang "We Shall Overcome" sought rights and opportunities that extended far beyond the ballot box.

Johnson said as much in his 1965 speech when he observed, "Even if we pass this bill, the battle will not be over. What happened in Selma is part of a far larger movement which reaches into every section and state of America. It is the effort of American Negroes to secure for themselves the full blessings of American life."

In our era of rising economic inequality, racial polarization and hostility to organized labor — when 27 percent of African-Americans live in poverty — it is important to remember everything that earlier protesters fought to overcome.

Only then will we see contemporary struggles for economic justice, such as fast-food workers' demands for a higher minimum wage and union rights, as part of a century-old civil rights movement. Only then will we hear the movement's signature song not just as a source of reassurance, a comforting reminder of toppled barriers and laws overturned, but as a call to action against the problems that remain.
Ethan J. Kytle, the author of "Romantic Reformers and the Antislavery Struggle in the Civil War Era," and Blain Roberts, the author of "Pageants, Parlors, and Pretty Women: Race and Beauty in the Twentieth-Century South," are associate professors of history at California State University, Fresno. They are writing a book about the memory of slavery in Charleston, S.C.

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Subject: RE: Origins: We Shall Overcome
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 10 May 15 - 07:49 PM

An essay on Zilphia Horton's contribution...

Who wrote "We Shall Overcome"?
Mark Silk
Religion News Service
8 May 2015

"We Shall Overcome" became the anthem of the civil rights movement in large measure because of Guy Carawan, the white singer and folklorist who died at the age of 87 a few days ago. When he sang it at the inaugural meeting of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Raleigh, N.C. in April of 1960, he "fathered the musical manifesto that, more than any other, became 'the "Marseillaise" of the integration movement,' as The New York Times described it in 1963," in the words of.

But as Fox points out, Carawan didn't write "We Shall Overcome" and never claimed to have. He learned it at the Highlander Research and Education Center, a social justice and cultural institute in East Tennessee where he worked as music director from 1959 until his retirement in the late 1980s.

A lot of energy has been spent tracking down the origins of the song, and the evolution of the title, structure, and lyrics is reasonably clear, right up to Pete Seeger's changing of "will" to "shall." As one might have expected, the text is rooted in the African-American church.

But the sources of the music lie much farther afield. The first eight measures derive from "O Sanctissima," a hymn to the Virgin Mary that was first published in 1792 and later arranged by Beethoven. What really sells the song, however, is the phrase in measures 9-12: "Deep in my heart I do believe." That phrase is melodically and harmonically identical to the opening bars of "Caro mio ben," a love song by the late-18th-century Italian composer Tommaso Giordano that became part of the standard art song repertory in the 19th century.

Songs don't compose themselves, of course. And in this case, the composer had to have been someone familiar with these classical pieces. Although no one, so far as I know, has ever said so directly, the credit must belong to Zilphia Horton, the social justice activist and musician who was Carawan's predecessor as music director of the Highlander Center.

Horton (née Johnson) grew up in the north central Arkansas town of Paris, the eldest daughter of an affluent coal mine supervisor. She began piano lessons at the age of five and grew to be an accomplished singer, studying classical music at what is now the University of the Ozarks. She was instilled with a commitment to social justice by Rev. Claude Williams, who became pastor of Paris' Cumberland Presbyterian Church in 1930. (The Cumberland Presbyterians were a revivalist denomination that broke with mainstream Presbyterianism in the early 19th century over the Calvinist tenet of election.)

Horton joined Williams' campaign to unionize her father's mine, as a result of which she was kicked out of the house and disowned. Making her way to what was then called the Highlander Folk School, she soon married Myles Horton, one of its founders. There she devoted herself to arranging music and putting it along with other arts to the service of social justice for the poor and oppressed until her untimely death in 1956 at the age of 46.

Horton was cagey about the provenance of "We Shall Overcome," saying that it was first sung by African-American strikers in Charleston, S.C. in 1945. It was her favorite song, she sang it all the time, and taught it to Pete Seeger. An early printed version attributes the authorship this way: "New words and music arrangement by Zilphia Horton, Frank Hamilton, Guy Carawan and Pete Seeger."

The ideology of folk songs is such that they are supposed to emerge from "the folk" rather than from the cultural elite, and in part "We Shall Overcome" did. But there is little question that its musical setting came by way of the refined classical training of the coal mine superintendent's daughter.

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Subject: RE: Origins: We Shall Overcome
From: Janie
Date: 10 May 15 - 11:10 PM

Thank you, all of you have posted and perhaps will post in the future. Mudcat at its best and most relevant.

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Subject: RE: Origins: We Shall Overcome
From: GUEST,Eddie (Cookie lost forever)
Date: 11 May 15 - 04:13 AM

I see many parallels between the Guy Carawan promotion of the song and the role of Robert Burns in promoting Scottish folk songs. Many people will insist that Burns wrote various songs, "Auld Lang Syne", "Scots Wha Ha'e" being two examples, but Burns himself only claimed to have collected them.


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Subject: RE: Origins: We Shall Overcome
From: Noreen
Date: 22 May 15 - 11:45 AM

A lovely tribute to Guy Carawan just now on BBC Radio 4's obituary programme, available to listen again on iPlayer:

Last Word

Includes various clips of "We shall overcome" and its development.

Very moving.

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Subject: RE: Origins: We Shall Overcome
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 14 Apr 16 - 12:43 AM

Who Owns 'We Shall Overcome'? All Of Us, A Lawsuit Claims

Elizabeth Blair
13 April 2016

One of the most iconic songs of the civil rights movement is now the subject of a lawsuit.

The same law firm that recently succeeded in releasing "Happy Birthday" from copyright rules is now hoping to do the same for "We Shall Overcome." Filed Tuesday in New York federal court, the suit claims the song belongs in the public domain, and seeks a return of "unlawful licensing fees" from the publishers.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the We Shall Overcome Foundation, a non-profit lad by Isaias Gamboa. A few years ago, Gamboa wrote a book about the history of the song. Now, he's working on a documentary based on his research. When he contacted the song's publishers, "they actually prevented me from using the song in the film, which I wasn't expecting," he says.

Knowing the song's origins, Gamboa says he couldn't understand why "We Shall Overcome" would be copyrighted in the first place. "It was always a derivative work," he says, "and was based on a spiritual from back in the day, as they say."

The song's roots run deep. Slaves sang "I'll overcome" in the fields; striking workers sang "we will overcome" on the picket lines. It was an African-American spiritual. So how did the version we know today get copyrighted at all?

A little more history: In the 1940s, African-American tobacco workers sang a version of the song on the picket lines in South Carolina. They introduced the song at the Highlander Folk Center in Tennessee, a meeting place for black and white labor activists. Highlander's music director, Zilphia Horton, introduced the song to Pete Seeger, who helped turn it into an international protest anthem.

In the early 1960s, Ludlow Music registered "We Shall Overcome" as an "unpublished derivative work." The plaintiff claims this copyright only covers some new verses and an arrangement, not the original melody and lyrics.

Ludlow's copyright names four people, including Zilphia Horton and Pete Seeger. In a 1993 book, Seeger said he and the others only signed the copyright to protect its legacy. "In the early '60s our publishers said to us, 'If you don't copyright this now, some Hollywood types will have a version out next year — like, 'come on baby, we shall overcome tonight,'" Seeger wrote.

The defendants in the case, The Richmond Organization and Ludlow Music, declined to be interviewed. In a statement to NPR, they write the lawsuit "goes too far and attempts to nullify the contribution of these authors which brought into being the iconic song we know today."

The publishers also write that "100% of the writers' royalties generated by 'We Shall Overcome' have gone to the 'We Shall Overcome Fund' operating in affiliation with the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tennessee, supporting the Fund's mission to nurture grassroots efforts within African American communities to use art and activism against injustice."

~ Becky in NJ at the moment

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Subject: RE: Origins: We Shall Overcome
From: Acme
Date: 14 Apr 16 - 01:08 AM

Thanks, Becky! Good to see you drop in!

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Subject: RE: Origins: We Shall Overcome
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 26 Jan 18 - 08:48 PM

And, here's the resolution of the suit... (more links in the article at the NYT site)

"We Shall Overcome" Is Put in Public Domain in a Copyright Settlement

The New York Times
JAN. 26, 2018

The two sides in a legal dispute over whether the song "We Shall Overcome" was subject to copyright protection reached a settlement on Friday that put the civil rights anthem in the public domain, lawyers involved in the case said.

Two plaintiffs, the makers of a documentary on the song's history and producers of the 2013 film "Lee Daniels' The Butler," who wanted to use part of the song in the movie, challenged its copyright protection in federal court.

The documentarians had been denied permission and the moviemakers were asked to pay as much as $100,000 to use it in several critical scenes, according to the law firm representing the plaintiffs.

In September, a federal judge partly rejected the copyright claim, saying the song's adaptation from an older work -- including changing "will" to "shall" -- was not original enough to qualify for protection.

That decision, by Judge Denise L. Cote of United States District Court in Manhattan, focused on the first verse, which has the lyrics "We shall overcome / We shall overcome some day" and "Oh deep in my heart I do believe / We shall overcome some day."

Judge Cote granted partial summary judgment to the plaintiffs, saying that the song "lacks originality," and focused in her ruling on the changing of "will" to "shall."

The songs origins have been traced to spirituals at the turn of the 20th century. In 1960 and 1963, the publisher Ludlow Music registered copyrights for it, saying that the song's authors -- including Pete Seeger -- had made changes to earlier versions of it.

The plaintiffs sought to have the copyright for the entire song declared invalid, with the case set for trial next month.

The litigation, which began in 2016, had become expensive and Ludlow spent far more on the case than it had earned on the song in recent years, Paul V. LiCalsi, a lawyer for Ludlow and the other defendant, the Richmond Organization, said in a telephone interview on Friday night.

In a statement, Ludlow said royalties from the song since the early 1960s had been donated to the nonprofit Highlander Research and Education Center in Tennessee, which created the We Shall Overcome Fund to distribute all of the royalties through grants and scholarships in black communities. It was not immediately clear how much money the fund had distributed.

"Without the same scope of copyright protection, Highlander's grants and scholarships will be deeply affected in the future," the statement said.

Ludlow also said uses of the song had in the past been "carefully vetted" but warned that its words and melody could now be used by advertising agencies and others "in any manner they wish, including inaccurate historical uses, commercials, parodies, spoofs and jokes, and even for political purposes by those who oppose civil rights for all Americans."

The settlement was "an enormously important achievement" because others can now use the song without paying for it or seeking permission, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, Mark C. Rifkin, said in a telephone interview on Friday night. "We're really thrilled to be part of an effort to give this song back to the public where it belongs," he said.

The case is the latest one to cancel the copyright of a time-honored song that many people may well assume was available for anyone to sing: A judge invalidated the copyright on "Happy Birthday to You" in 2015.


~ Becky in Long Beach

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Subject: RE: Origins: We Shall Overcome
From: ChanteyLass
Date: 26 Jan 18 - 09:42 PM

Thank you for this update, Becky.

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Subject: RE: Origins: We Shall Overcome
From: Joe Offer
Date: 29 Jan 18 - 12:08 AM

Ludlow is custodian of a great number of songs that many of us would consider "traditional," or at least part of "the folk tradition." I'd breathe a sigh of relief if Ludlow were to let go of all its claims on folksongs.

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Subject: RE: Origins: We Shall Overcome-now in public domain
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch
Date: 31 Jan 18 - 04:02 AM

Defendants: The Richmond Organization and Ludlow Music:

Quite a list. I wonder how many mudcatters would still have heard some of the songs or artists if it hadn't been for good ol' Howie Richmond..

"Mr. Richmond's hit-making prowess, noteworthy by any standard, was all the more remarkable in that he was laboring under a singular disadvantage. By his own cheerful admission, he was utterly tone-deaf."

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