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Bob Dylan Performing “The Ballad of the Emmett Till” on Pacifica Radio’s WBAI in 1962

StoryAugust 26, 2005
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In May 1962 the legendary folksinger Bob Dylan came by the WBAI studios in New York to perform his rarely heard tribute to Emmett Till. This is one of the earliest known live recordings of Bob Dylan. [includes rush transcript]

It was recorded within days of his 21st birthday. “The Ballad of Emmett Till” never appeared on an official Bob Dylan record and was only released on a compilation put out by Broadside Records (on which Dylan recorded under the pseudonym Blind Boy Grunt). This is from the * Pacifica Radio Archives*.

  • “The Ballad of Emmett Till”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to end with a song that has been rarely heard but first played on Pacifica station WBAI. Thanking Professor Clenora Hudson-Weems and Keith Beauchamp, the song of legendary folk musician Bob Dylan. He wrote “The Ballad of Emmett Till” which tells the story of the murder in one of his first recorded appearances. Bob Dylan performed this song on WBAI in May of 1962.

BOB DYLAN: It was down in Mississippi not so long ago/ When a young boy from Chicago town walked through a southern door./ This most fateful tragedy you should all remember well/ The color of his skin was black and his name was Emmett Till.

Some men they dragged him to a barn and there they beat him up/ They said they had a reason, but I disremember what./ They tortured him and did some things too evil to repeat./ There were screaming sounds inside the barn. There was laughing sounds out on the street.

Then they rolled his body down a gulch. They mixed the blood with rain./ And they threw him in the waters wide to cease his screaming pain./ The reason that they killed him there — and I’m sure it ain’t no lie/ Was just for the fun of killing him, and to slowly watch him die.

And then to stop the United States from yelling for a trial/ Two brothers they confessed that they had killed poor Emmett Till./ But on the jury there were men who helped the brothers commit this awful crime,/ And so this trial was a mockery but nobody seemed to mind.

I saw the morning papers, but I could not bear/ To see the smiling brothers walking down the courthouse stairs/ Oh the jury found them innocent, and the brothers they went free/ While Emmett’s body floats the foam of a Jim Crow southern sea.

If you can’t speak out against this kind of thing, a crime that’s so unjust/ Your eyes are filled with dead man’s dirt, and your mind is filled with dust/ Your arms and legs they must be in shackles and chains, and your blood it must refuse to flow/ For you’ve let this human race fall down so God-awful low!

This song is just a reminder to remind your fellow man/ That this kind of thing still lives today in that ghost-robed Ku Klux Klan./ But if all of us folks that thinks alike, if we gave all we could give,/ We could make this great land of ours a greater place to live.

AMY GOODMAN: Bob Dylan, performing at Pacifica station WBAI in New York.

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