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Legendary Singer & Activist Barbara Dane Turns 96; Watch 2018 Interview & Performance

Web ExclusiveMay 12, 2023
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Barbara Dane has led a groundbreaking life. In the 1950s, she became a popular blues singer and performed with many leading musicians of the time, including Louis Armstrong, Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Memphis Slim, Lightnin’ Hopkins and many others. She eventually largely dropped out of the commercial music world to focus on activism, becoming involved in the civil rights movement, as well as the GI resistance movement during the Vietnam War. She and her husband Irwin Silber started the record label called Paredon to release music from freedom struggles across the globe. Dane also released her own recordings on Paredon — one was titled I Hate the Capitalist System. In 2018, Barbara Dane stopped by the Democracy Now! studio to talk about her remarkable life and play a few songs. Smithsonian Folkways has just released a new retrospective titled Barbara Dane: Hot Jazz, Cool Blues & Hard-Hitting Songs.

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

We’re joined today by the singer and activist Barbara Dane. Pete Seeger often called her one of the most remarkable American musicians of all.

BARBARA DANE: [singing] We shall not
We shall not be moved.

BARBARA DANE: I was carrying a guitar around and singing everything I could get my hands on. I always had a very open-minded approach to music, because, to me, it’s all one thing. You know, it didn’t contain within little boxes.

BARBARA DANE: [singing] No, there ain’t nobody
Got the blues like me.

NARRATOR: When Barbara Dane burst onto the scene in the late 1950s, Playboy magazine’s jazz critic Leonard Feather called her “Bessie Smith in stereo.” And Time magazine described her voice as “pure, rich, rare as a twenty carat diamond.”

BARBARA DANE: [singing] Won’t you come along with me
On that Mississippi?

JAMES EARLY: Across the ideological spectrum of Black America, they recognize themselves in your voice. I think that is a profound contribution to not only the arts but to humanity.

NARRATOR: During her more than half-century in music, Barbara Dane has performed with an unbelievably diverse range of music greats, blues legends Lightnin’ Hopkins, the Chambers Brothers, Memphis Slim and Willie Dixon, jazz greats like Earl Hines, Jack Teagarden and Louis Armstrong.

BARBARA DANE: [singing] Though the dry land changed to sea
It will never make any change in me
I’ve got that old-fashioned love in my heart.

NARRATOR: Barbara Dane has been a nightclub owner, social activist, record producer and hellraiser at large.

PETE SEEGER, JOAN BAEZ, PHIL OCHS, PETER YARROW & BARBARA DANE: [singing] When the union’s inspiration through the workers’ blood shall run,
There can be no power greater anywhere beneath the sun.

NARRATOR: All her life, Dane has been deeply involved in social activism, fighting racism in the ’40s and ’50s, in the ’60s singing at demonstrations against nuclear power and at protests against the Vietnam War.

BARBARA DANE: [singing] Hell no, we won’t go
And we just ain’t gonna go.

BARBARA DANE: Why would I want to stand up in front of a bunch of people singing something that I don’t even care about the words to, shaking them maracas, you know, wearing a low-cut dress, when I could be out here changing the world with these other people?

BARBARA DANE: [singing] Over in the Congress,
I’m gonna let it shine.
Oh, over in the Congress,
I’m gonna let it shine.
Oh, over in the Congress,
I’m gonna let it shine.
Oh, let it shine,
Let it shine,
Let it shine.

BARBARA DANE: I think there’s a power in music that unites people beyond their willpower even. You can take a roomful of people and make them feel their kinship in a way that nothing else can with a song.

AMY GOODMAN: That film directed by Maureen Gosling, who’s making a new film about Barbara Dane.

Barbara Dane has led a groundbreaking life. In the 1950s, she became a popular blues singer and performed with many leading musicians of the time, including Louis Armstrong, Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Memphis Slim, Lightnin’ Hopkins and many others. In 1959, she became the first white woman featured in Ebony magazine. That same year, she performed at the inaugural Newport Folk Festival. One critic described her as “Bessie Smith in stereo.” Her hit songs included the classic “I’m on My Way.”

While Dane was filling nightclubs, she was also spending more and more time in the streets singing at civil rights and antiwar protests. She eventually largely dropped out of the commercial music world to focus on activism. In 1964, a young Bob Dylan wrote a letter to Sing Out! magazine, saying, quote, “The world needs more people like Barbara, someone who’s willing to follow her conscience. She is, if the term must be used, a hero.” Those the words of Bob Dylan.

In 1966, Barbara Dane became the first American singer to perform in Cuba after the revolution. That same year, she released a remarkable album with the Chambers Brothers. It included the song “Freedom Is a Constant Struggle,” a song she learned from Fannie Lou Hamer. In the early '70s, she and her husband, Irwin Silber, started the record label called Paredon to release music from freedom struggles across the globe. Barbara Dane also released her own recordings on Paredon. One was titled I Hate the Capitalist System. We've got the album here.

Well, Barbara Dane has just turned 91 years old. She’s still singing. Smithsonian Folkways has just released a new retrospective called Barbara Dane: Hot Jazz, Cool Blues & Hard-Hitting Songs. And Barbara Dane joins us now in our New York studio.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Barbara.

BARBARA DANE: Amy, it’s such a dream to sit right here across the table from you. I love you. I love you!

AMY GOODMAN: Well, it is a great honor to be able to sit down with you to talk about your remarkable life. So, talk about where you were born.

BARBARA DANE: Detroit, Detroit, poor old Detroit. But Detroit is coming up now, has a big renaissance going on. I would — if I were 40 years old, I’d probably move back there, just for the love of the place. Anyway, yeah, Detroit, but it was Depression, you know, the deepest —

AMY GOODMAN: It was May 12th, 1927.

BARBARA DANE: '27. Well, as you can believe, the course of the Depression was right during my — you know the years when I'm seeing the world for the first time. And my dad was a farm boy from Arkansas. He had gotten himself a pharmacy degree and came up to Detroit and borrowed some money and opened a little drugstore way out in the outskirts of town. And my mom, of course, was — she was about 19 then, I guess. And they came to the big city, never been out of Arkansas. And they raised three kids, and I was the oldest.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you worked in your dad’s store.


AMY GOODMAN: Talk about this pivotal moment when you served an African American customer.

BARBARA DANE: Well, you know, even before that, I’d like, just for a second, to touch on the fact that there were all these little kids with — they’d come in there, and I was in charge of the penny candy counter, you know, and on the ice cream dipping. I made ice cream cones. I could stand on the box and reach the thing. And they would come in with a nickel and try to share it between a whole bunch of kids. It was so sad. It was so heart-wrenching. So, I really understood, very early, inequality, because other people could buy more easily.

Anyway, I was in there one hot day, really hot day. Outside, those days in Detroit, when you stepped on the tar of the street, you know, your heel went into the tar. Outside, on the side street was a road gang from the WPA making a road bed. The men — 

AMY GOODMAN: The Works Progress Administration of Roosevelt?

BARBARA DANE: Exactly. And one guy — I mean, they’re all Black guys, and they’re all recently up from the South, of course, and in dire need. And that’s why they’re taking WPA jobs. So, the guy wants a — he wants a cold drink. He comes in the store. He doesn’t quite know what are the rules in this strange place, you know. But he asks for a Coca-Cola. So, I do — my dad instructed me, pour the — put the glass there, one of those — you have to do everything by Coke’s rules, you know. It’s got to be that shaped glass, poured out of this woman-shaped bottle. You remember that? It’s all psychological programming. And I poured in half a glass, just how I was supposed to, put it down. And the man is standing there. He didn’t know whether to sit down and to come up, what to do, take it out, what — he didn’t know what to do. And I’m saying, gesturing to sit down.

My dad comes running out of the prescription room where he’s making a compounding of the prescription, yelling at the guy, “Get out of here! Get out of here! You know you can’t drink that in here!” And then the man quietly leaves, and my dad starts yelling at me about how I can’t do that, because we — if we start having those people in here, then all these people in the neighborhood would stop coming in, and we’d lose everything. And he was — you know, he was a desperate man. Right? And he was raised in a little town in Arkansas called Paragould, which even today they call Klan country. So he was raised with this, that mentality, but altogether a very decent, kind, hard-working dad, you know? So, there was always that dynamic in the house, you know.

But when the man — when the man left, and I was — you know, somehow, it took maybe 30 or 40 years to understand that incident, but it kept reoccurring in my mind. And I finally understood that in that moment I had seen what kids believe in, fair or not fair. Every kids have a sense of that. “Mom, that isn’t fair! My brother took that” — you know? And so, I knew it wasn’t fair. It was not fair. My dad had wronged a man, and he had humiliated another person in front of me. He had humiliated me in front of another person. “No, Dad, you know, it’s wrong.” And so, somehow I realized that that — the pain of that Black guy going out, having to just sort of give up and go out, got inside me.

AMY GOODMAN: When did you start singing?

BARBARA DANE: Oh, I always singing. For instance, I’d sing at birthday parties. “OK, Barbara, get up on the table and sing.” You know, Shirley Temple time, right? So, Shirley Temple with her little curls — well, that wasn’t me. I had horrible little bobbed hair. But anyway, my song was “Ferdinand, Ferdinand, the bull with a delicate ego. Ferdinand, Ferdinand, the heifers all call him amigo. Ferdinand, Ferdinand, they’d curtsy and greet him politely. He knew how to tango and dance the fandango, but he never learned to fight.” And that stuck in my head. Isn’t that strange? But that’s my first little remembrance of a song.

AMY GOODMAN: And then, when did you get your guitar?

BARBARA DANE: Well, I had been asked to sing a lot at picket lines and things, and I was just kind of shouting it out. I could pitch my voice, because I had a little bit of voice training and knew how to physically do that. But you need something else to help the picket walk evenly and in time, you know, or whatever. So my Communist Party club chipped in and bought me a guitar.

AMY GOODMAN: How did you end up joining a communist club?

BARBARA DANE: Oh, well, OK, when I was about 11, 10 years old, me and the two little boys that lived down the street — now, one of them, named Bill Hall, I’ve never seen him since those days. But Bill’s dad must have been a union organizer or something, because he knew what was going on. And we’re sitting under a tree in the shade in the summer, and he’s telling us, “You know, there’s different ways that people get organized.” And he described capitalism, and I said, “Man, this is bad. This is — nobody’s got jobs. It’s all, you know.” And he describes socialism, and he describes communism, in his childish way, but simple. And I thought, “Well, hey, wait a minute.” So I started looking for the communists and the reds. You know, where are they? And when I got old enough, I went up to the ninth floor of the Lawyers Building on the Cadillac Square where the office was, put down my 50 cents, got my card. But I got kicked out later on, but that was a whole ’nother story, because of an agent provocateur in the group.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you performed with Pete Seeger in Detroit.

BARBARA DANE: In Detroit, yeah, Pete came to town to try to find someone to organize his People’s Songs chapter there. He got out of the service, and then he tried to organize his People’s Song network.

AMY GOODMAN: Around when was this?

BARBARA DANE: That was — well, I was about 18, I guess, and so right after the war, right? Right out after the war, yeah. And so, I tried, but I was also — had left home. I had to leave my dad’s roof because of a racist thing, you know, that happened, that —

AMY GOODMAN: What happened?

BARBARA DANE: Well, we’d been on our way to a demonstration. We had to drive out to my dad — my house, where I was living. It was out in the suburb by now. And it was a Black friend who was driving, a really fantastic young woman named Erma Henderson. Now, Erma later, from then, when she was the kind of helpful focal point of a couple organizing adventures — Erma later became the head of the City Council, and people would say that she was the most electable person in Michigan. You know, she was fantastic, Erma Henderson. And anyway, but then she was, you know, 20 years old, maybe older than me a little bit.

And we drove to my dad’s house, and she said — we were in a hurry — “I’ll stay in the car, because I know how your dad is. We don’t want to complicate things, and we want to get out here fast.” So I ran in, changed my clothes. And by the time I came back to the car, I made up my mind: I can’t live here, you know, because I can’t bring a friend. A friend feels uncomfortable coming in my house. I can’t live here. So I asked her if she could — her mom would put me up for a little while ’til I figured out what to do. So, I went in, packed up my — got some cardboard boxes, threw my stuff in and left.

AMY GOODMAN: In 1947, you went to the first World Festival of Youth and Students in Prague.

BARBARA DANE: Right. And this festival is —

AMY GOODMAN: And, 20, you had just gotten your guitar.

BARBARA DANE: This festival is still continuing, by the way. And they were — the festival itself was a product of the fact that all around the world young people — it was right after the war. We’re all looking for peace. We’re looking for a new way to do things. We’re looking for contact. We’re looking. And so, this was a natural thing that grew up, you know? And the U.S. could have participated fully. They were supposed to. But they pulled out at the last minute. And the State Department withdrew the — they were going to supply some troop ships that were returning to Europe. They were going to give us transportation and all kinds of — they just withdrew. But Eleanor Roosevelt actually was helping recruit people for the delegation. And Arthur Miller was going to send a version of we — oh, All My Sons, that famous play that addresses the military-industrial complex very well. And he had a cast all ready to go. And he had to scrap that because the State Department didn’t want that message flying around Europe, you know.

AMY GOODMAN: So you took a ship there.

BARBARA DANE: So, yeah, we — what was left of the delegation, that didn’t pull out or fall out, we took a boat over there. And on the way over, incredible adventures, which I won’t go into, but they’re in my — they’re going to be in my autobiography. There’s a lot of things. But we went there, and we all, you know, spent a month in Prague, being hosted a month. Imagine, in that great city, Prague right after the war. And, you know, it was a — it was a moment when the anti-fascist coalition around the world was really, you know, operative and glorious, really, the fact that you could — anywhere you went, you could run into other people who would proclaim themselves as anti-fascists, whatever organization or whatever particular political stripe.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, the anti-fascists, of course, also earlier, in the 1930s, went —

BARBARA DANE: Went to Spain.

AMY GOODMAN: A number of people went to Spain to fight Franco.


AMY GOODMAN: But not all Americans considered that what they were doing in World War II was fighting fascism, whether it was Franco —


AMY GOODMAN: — or Hitler. But you defined yourself in that way.

BARBARA DANE: Oh, yes, for sure. Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: You then came back to the United States and went to the People’s Song convention in Chicago?

BARBARA DANE: Well, that was the next thing on my agenda, was that this People’s Songs network was coming together, and Irwin, who was when — he was about 23. He ran the whole thing. Well, it was — yeah, it was —

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Irwin Silber.

BARBARA DANE: Irwin Silber.

AMY GOODMAN: Who would become your husband.

BARBARA DANE: Years later. But we knew each other as colleagues for 20 years before we fell in love and wound up being together 43 years. It was amazing. By the way, a little — you know, just before I go back to the story, I just want to say, because there are young people watching this: When you find somebody you think you might be attracted to and you might want to plan a future with, make sure you both have the same world outlook and the same goals in life, because, otherwise, it won’t work. OK? No matter how great the sex is, or whatever. But, no, you have to look for that. And we did have that.

OK, so, anyway, Irwin was running this thing. And to be raising money to put the thing on, they booked a big theater, the biggest one in Chicago, and we had all these people do a show that included Big Bill Broonzy and Woody Guthrie and Pete and — who else? Alan Lomax. And the emcee was Studs Terkel. And it was a terrific event. And I — you know, I get introduced as a little housewife from Michigan, because that’s the way Pete liked to — he liked to define sectors on his show. You know, so, “Here comes a little housewife from Detroit.” And so, I say, “OK, I just came back from Prague, and I’m going sing 'Na tu svatú Katerinu,' a song I learned there.” And, you know, like that. But then, after the evening —

AMY GOODMAN: So, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, they all performed.

BARBARA DANE: They all — everybody performed. So, at the end of the evening, OK, so, Woody says, “Want to go down to hear Bill Broonzy?” And in his club, where he plays the blues. And now, he takes off his overalls, puts on his blues outfit and, you know, transforms to his blues club gear. “So, you want to go down to hear that at that club?” “Of course, I will go! Yes!” So, they’re pulling up — they’re pulling up the car, and I’m getting in the car, and I look in the backseat, and there’s Pete Seeger, Alan Lomax and Studs and Woody. And I’m sort of the token girl, right? So, off we go.

So, we get on the drive in Chicago headed south. And all of a sudden, Woody says, “Oops! I missed the turn.” And what does he do? He said, “I’ll fix that.” He backs up in the fast lane, I don’t know how many — you know, half a mile, and get to the place and gets off, and we make it free. But if a big truck had been coming, no folk revival. That would have all been over.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you remember — 

BARBARA DANE: Right there.

AMY GOODMAN: — what you sang then?

BARBARA DANE: On that show?

AMY GOODMAN: What they sang?

BARBARA DANE: Yeah. What they sang, I don’t know. But what I sang, I had a — I had written a parody to a pop song then, which was “Hey bop-a-rebop, hey bop-a-rebop, yes, your baby knows.” I had something about “Tell old Burns like Tilly told Tut, if you can’t talk peace, keep your big mouth shut. And hey bop-a-rebop, hey bop-a-rebop.” You know, I was never stuck in a genre, because, to me, it was all music. And, you know, Pete, who was — at that time, was like, for everybody, like, he was the conscience. He was the model. He was the one you looked to. What would Pete think? You know, how did Pete do it? And so, you know, I — you could have not done it. You could have decided not to go into that way of reaching out to pop songs and jazz and all that. But one day, Pete said at a little meeting we were having, he said, “You know, some of us ought look out into this other type of music, because you can get to reach more people with these other…” And I went, “OK, thanks for the license,” you know? I was already there, but yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you go from Chicago — and I’m sure there were all sorts of detours — but to California.

BARBARA DANE: Yeah, finally. Let’s see. How did I go to — well, I went to California because there were no houses, no apartments at all in Detroit. FBI, by the way, was already taking my picture every time I walked out the door.

AMY GOODMAN: Did you know it?

BARBARA DANE: Yeah, I did. I could see. There was no empty apartments. But across from our little place in the ghetto — we were living in the Black ghetto, actually, because — but there was a window right over here that didn’t have any curtains, and I could see this little round lens-looking thing.

AMY GOODMAN: This was in California,

BARBARA DANE: No, in Detroit.

AMY GOODMAN: In Detroit.

BARBARA DANE: Detroit. I’m 18, 19 years old, I guess, by then. So, what did I do? I got a red beret and a long cigarette holder, and I put on my trench coat. And every time I walked out, I’d go, “Hi!” I would, you know, vogue a little bit for the camera. What else are you going to do? You know? I mean, people ask me, “How did you go all these years and not get, you know, frightened off — I mean, get frozen by the idea that something terrible is going to happen if you do it and all that?” No, no, no, you’ve got to do it. Do it full out. Do it openly. They had nothing they could hold me, extort me with, because I didn’t have any secrets. You know, it was all out there. So, but, yeah, you get used to it. And —

AMY GOODMAN: So, eventually, you make your way to California.

BARBARA DANE: And I left to California because, like I say, there’s no housing at all. And I get out there, and there’s a People’s Song chapter there. Who’s in it? Malvina Reynolds was a schoolteacher then, and she was — she was good. She was —

AMY GOODMAN: Malvina Reynolds.

BARBARA DANE: Yeah, Mal. And she had written these really great songs, like, “Put on your hat and come with me. Let’s go down to the garden. We’ll see the children.” You know, she made the children all colors and the flowers all colors. You know how she’d take a real important message and put it in a very palatable way. And, yeah, so Mal was there. And I think Earl Robinson was — yeah, Earl was there.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you’re like 23, 24, 25.


AMY GOODMAN: And you’re performing with Muddy Waters, and then with Louis Armstrong and…

BARBARA DANE: Yeah, well, that’s — well, the Louis thing was a bit later. It was after, because I put out my first album in 1957. That was when I was singing at a —

AMY GOODMAN: Thirty years old.

BARBARA DANE: — dump called Jack’s Waterfront Hangout, down on the waterfront, across from the Ferry Building in California. And the album is called Trouble in Mind, OK? And it’s still a kind of a classic, you know, because I had the most wonderful team of musicians. Pops Foster on bass, who was — everybody considered, you know, the man of that style, Pops Foster. Then Darnell Howard, who had played on the riverboats in New Orleans and all, and had played all through the Depression. He told me about horrible ways they had to perform for the — when the gangster clubs came about during Prohibition and all that kind of story, but Darnell played great clarinet. Then, Bob Mielke, who played trombone, and it was just so rich and beautiful. And the most — one of the most remarkable of the four was a guy named Pete Stanton. Petey played — when you hear it, you can hear this — some kind of tone in his trumpet playing, very unusual. And the piano player was Don Ewell. Anyway, when you hear it now, you know, you can hear how well it was recorded, even then, because they didn’t do it on separate microphones or separate tracks or anything. We gather around in the room, and they place us in relation to the microphone, you know, and the microphone’s up here somewhere. And we just — it gets mixed in the air live, you know?

AMY GOODMAN: Can you remember one of the songs from that album?

BARBARA DANE: Yeah, I can remember that.

AMY GOODMAN: Which one?

BARBARA DANE: The title of the whole thing was Trouble in Mind, and so that was — became kind of a signature tune.

AMY GOODMAN: How did it go?

BARBARA DANE: [singing] Trouble in mind, I’m blue, but I won’t be blue always, 'cause that sun's going to shine in my door someday.

And then, what I do in that song is — it’s a transformation, because at first you’re saying, “I’m gonna lay my head on the lonesome railroad track line and let the 219 train pacify my mind.” And then, OK, there’s an instrumental, and then I come back and do, well, “Trouble in mind, I’m gonna lay my head on some lonesome railroad track. And when the train comes along, I’m damn sure gonna pull it back. Trouble in mind.” That’s my version of it. But I was attracted to those classic blues partly because of the fact they were women writing them, and they were a woman’s point of view. You know, and it was so different from the back porch thing where the man is playing the guitar, and, you know, what we typically think of as the old time blues player.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Barbara Dane, let’s turn to you performing with Louis Armstrong.

BARBARA DANE: Oh? Go ahead.

BARBARA DANE: [singing] I’ve got that old-fashioned love in my heart
And there, it shall always remain
Love is like the ivy vine
Cling a little closer all the time
Through the years, joy and tears, just the same

I’ve got that old-fashioned faith in my heart
And no changes can tear it apart
Though the dry land changed to sea
It will never make any change in me
I’ve got that old-fashioned love in my heart.

Although the land may change to sea
It will never make any change in me
I’ve got that old-fashioned love in my heart.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s — 


AMY GOODMAN: Who was playing with you?

BARBARA DANE: That was Bobby Hackett taking the trumpet chorus out, and the drums was Gene Krupa, who was everybody’s favorite drummer at the time, because his personality was strong.

AMY GOODMAN: And you’re singing “Old-Fashioned Love.”

BARBARA DANE: “Old-Fashioned Love.”

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about your relationship with Louis Armstrong.

BARBARA DANE: Well, we were on the same bill out in Pasadena Playhouse on a particular program. And that’s the first time, you know, he heard me, and he heard me sing with the other band. And I got a call from Glaser’s office saying that he wanted me to be with him on his next tour of Europe.

AMY GOODMAN: Who’s Glaser?

BARBARA DANE: Oh, that guy, Joe Glaser. Well, he was the manager of a lot of people, including Billie Holiday, just to cut his description short. Do you remember Flo Kennedy, a Black lawyer, a woman?


BARBARA DANE: She was very busy in the GI movement. That’s how I knew Flo. We were always showing up at the GI things. But Flo told me that she — when she was Billie’s lawyer, she was in Billie’s hospital room, and Glaser is trying to convince Billie to sign over her life story. And Billie says, “No. No,” because, you know, he was also her — supplying her the dope and everything else, you know. So, Joe Glaser, you know, asked if I would go with Louis on — Louis wanted me to go and be his latest discovery on his tour in Europe.

AMY GOODMAN: And this was a big European State Department tour.

BARBARA DANE: Right. And Louis was being Ambassador Satch then. He was the — you know.


BARBARA DANE: So, Louis, he was all for it, because, I mean, I’m sure it was musically, too. You know, we were in sync. But I go home, and I get ready to go on the tour. Glaser gave me a small advance, I guess, to buy some clothes or something. But I got started getting ready to go, and then all — it all dries up. I go on The Timex Show, that show you just saw. And when I get back home, you know, I don’t — I start not hearing anything, and there’s no phone call. He won’t answer my anything. So I began to realize that I’m not on that tour anymore. And it’s just — nobody ever explained anything. It just vanished.

Well, it took me years and years and years of — you know, I don’t dwell on these things. I put it in the background. But after I — actually, I saw Gary Giddins’ famous biography of Louis on PBS, very, very well done, and Giddins is a great researcher. And when I was watching that show, it dawned on me as I saw the sequence of the thing: “Oh, that’s it. The State Department didn’t want a blonde, blue-eyed, red hot, you know, blabbing about race conditions all over Europe as Louis’s great discovery,” because Louis had just been severely clamped down by his manager for having come out of his cage or whatever. Glaser was famous for having a short leash on Louis, you know, because —

AMY GOODMAN: Well, explain what you mean, that Louis wasn’t speaking out that much, outside of his music.

BARBARA DANE: Louis hadn’t been. Right. He hadn’t been, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: About race conditions in the United States.

BARBARA DANE: Yeah, because, you know, the guy was an orphan from a small New Orleans desperation, you know? And so he knew about holding it all in line. But he got to a point where he saw the thing going on in Little Rock, and he saw the government was going to bring out the troops and all this —

AMY GOODMAN: This is when the kids wanted to integrate the schools.

BARBARA DANE: Integrate the high school, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Little Rock high school, Central High.

BARBARA DANE: And Louis popped off in the press all over the map and said that the president was a — was some kind of weasel, was a coward, and he wouldn’t go — “You should go down there yourself and walk them in there.”

AMY GOODMAN: You’re talking about President Eisenhower.

BARBARA DANE: Eisenhower, yeah. So, Louis really read him out, in public, in the press.

AMY GOODMAN: He said, “Instead of sending the troops, go yourself.”

BARBARA DANE: “Go yourself. Walk them in there yourself,” you know. And so, Louis was in big trouble. But he was pulled — they’re not going to get rid of Louis, because he’s already this big investment. They’re making him into this Ambassador Satch personality. And so, they’re not going to get rid of him, but they’re going to — they could pull me off the tour.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, I want to talk about really that same year, in 1959. Ebony does a profile of you.


AMY GOODMAN: You were the first white woman to be profiled by Ebony. And they write, she seemed “startlingly blonde, especially when that powerful dusky alto voice begins to moan of trouble, two-timing men and freedom … with stubborn determination, enthusiasm and a basic love for the underdog [she is] making a name for herself … aided and abetted by some of the oldest names in jazz who helped give birth to the blues.” They talked about you as a “startlingly blonde,” pale-faced young woman.

BARBARA DANE: Yeah, right.

AMY GOODMAN: What did that mean to you to be featured in Ebony magazine?

BARBARA DANE: Well, it was very validating, of course. It was very helpful, because, you know, whoever was thinking, “Well, what the heck is — what is she all about?” they added some better idea of it then. But it was also embarrassing to me, because they’re saying that I was saving the blues, making the blues stay alive and all that. No, because the blues is never going to die. The blues belongs to millions and to history. You know, so it was embarrassing in that part. But on the other hand, the main purpose, the main function, was that it made me feel more comfortable doing what I was doing. Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you had a chance to go big then. I mean, you have this major producer, maybe not major at the time, but he’s — 

BARBARA DANE: Oh, Glaser was super major. But —

AMY GOODMAN: No, talking about Al Grossman.

BARBARA DANE: Oh, Al Grossman.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you had a chance in ’59, ’60, around that time —


AMY GOODMAN: — for Al Grossman, the producer, to represent you. He would represent later Janis Joplin, Peter, Paul and Mary —


AMY GOODMAN: — Bob Dylan. But he wants to represent you.

BARBARA DANE: Right. And this is the beginning of his — he’s starting out his stable, as we call it, you know? Yeah. But his approach to me, first, he had been, you know, trying to get me little things to show that he was — could do what he proposed to do. But then, one day, he says, “Well, you got, you know, all these things. You got your family. You got all this political stuff you do and your career. Now, when you get your priorities straight” — oh, lights go off. I say, “Al, I have my priorities straight. So long,” you know.

AMY GOODMAN: What does he mean?

BARBARA DANE: Not gonna — not gonna go with his deal. You know, I’m not going to change my whole direction in life because he can make me famous. What the hell is that about? I mean, that’s not —

AMY GOODMAN: But it was your politics he had some trouble with.

BARBARA DANE: Yeah, sure. He just — he did not want me, you know, becoming a deficit in his —

AMY GOODMAN: You really knew what you wanted to do.


AMY GOODMAN: You’re just like — you’re 30.

BARBARA DANE: Yeah, I knew what I wanted. I mean, I knew — I had already sussed out the whole, you know, OK, this is a — this commercial world is one thing, and to be in it, there are all these different things you have to adapt yourself to and compromises you have to make. And, you know, I mean, when they start telling you, “Oh, girly, I can’t you wear a lower-cut dress, you know, something a little bit more form-fitting?” No, I got a bigger tent dress, you know? “Girly, can’t you sing more of those happy songs? Why are you singing those old sad blues?” Well, because that’s what I’m trying to tell you about, you know.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you opened your own club in 1961, Sugar Hill.

BARBARA DANE: Well, I had a dream for a long time about not just to — well, there were other several things. I wanted to be in a fixed location. My kids were getting of an age where they needed me more often. And I wanted to go back and be anchored in Berkeley and Oakland, the East Bay of San Francisco. But also, I had this dream of presenting these old-timers, like Mama Yancey and Tampa Red, and this one and that one, T-Bone Walker and — oh, what’s the great piano player? A lot of people were just, you know, they were dying out, and they were — their notoriety was diminishing, and they were fading. And I thought they need one more hurrah, you know? Some of them never had the first hurrah. But at least I wanted to make a place where they could do that. And that was —

AMY GOODMAN: And talk about calling it Sugar Hill.

BARBARA DANE: Sugar Hill. Well, I was looking for a name that came out of both Black and white culture. So, I knew that it did. It had resonance both in white culture — it just seemed like a good meeting ground.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Sugar Hill in Harlem.

BARBARA DANE: That, and then, “Going to Sugar Hill” is a banjo tune, you know?

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to go to another clip from the archive. Here you are performing on the TV show Playboy’s Penthouse.


BARBARA DANE: [singing] Ain’t no man in Charleston
Who’s a stranger to Big Crown’s Bess
Catfish Row is closed now
To the sight of this old blue dress
But there is one they call Porgy
Seems like that man understood
Got his trust in me, Lord…

AMY GOODMAN: So, you performed at — on television for Playboy’s Penthouse. What was that?

BARBARA DANE: Well, Hugh Hefner had a canned show that he did which was called — I think it probably still circulates somewhere — called that, Playboy’s Penthouse. Hugh had, you know, a few invited — well, they were hired hands. They were supposed to be invited guests to a little gathering in his penthouse, and different people would come and go. And, I mean, like, he even had Lenny Bruce on there. Not many people would put Lenny on television, but they did. And it was — I had gotten a — what do you call it? An award or some kind of thing from Playboy magazine. I guess that’s what Hefner decided to bring me on for that.

But it was fun, because I did three songs, but one of the songs requires — I go into sort of a whole — it’s called “The Song of the Salvation Army.”

AMY GOODMAN: Can you sing it?

BARBARA DANE: “We’re coming. We’re coming.” I’m beating on a drum. “We’re coming. We’re coming. A brave liittle band. On the right side of temperance, we now take a stand. We don’t chew tobacco, because we do think that the people who use it are liable to drink.” Well, anyway, it goes on. And it’s — I just wanted to a complete break from the first song, which is — that I do three songs on that show. The first one’s “Had plenty money 1922.” It’s kind of a — it’s a blues, you know? And then I get this funny song in the middle, and then I go to that really serious one about Porgy.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you do Porgy here?

BARBARA DANE: Here? It’s pretty hard. It requires — 

AMY GOODMAN: Just a few lines?

BARBARA DANE: — more voice. Oh, let’s see. “Ain’t no man in Charleston who’s a stranger to Big Crown’s Bess.” I’m in the wrong key. OK. “Ain’t no man in Charleston who’s a stranger to Big Crown’s Bess. Got his trust in me, Lord, so I just got to” — I forget the words now. It’s a long time since I’ve sung it.

AMY GOODMAN: Don’t worry.

BARBARA DANE: But it’s — you know, it’s not from Porgy and Bess. It’s a whole different — I think it’s by DuBose Heyward. And it’s about a poor guy, you know, who gets gets a girl, as opposed to the fancy guy. So that’s why I like the song.

AMY GOODMAN: In 1964, Bob Dylan, a young Bob Dylan, writes a letter to Sing Out!, saying, “The world needs more people like Barbara, someone who’s willing to follow her conscience. She is, if the term must be used, a hero.”

BARBARA DANE: Ooh, good words, Bob. Thank you. Kind words. No, I knew him from earlier, when he was really at the beginning of his whole thing. And he was very eager to be in the scene and be with people and help out and hang out and be — you know, and he really — he would pop up in Gerde’s Folk City, which was in the Village down by NYU, you know, and he’d pop up on the stage unexpectedly. I was once — I’m playing the blues and singing by myself, and —

AMY GOODMAN: Were you living in New York at the time?

BARBARA DANE: I was at — I don’t know. I don’t remember.

AMY GOODMAN: You eventually would come to New York.

BARBARA DANE: I might have been. So, I hear the piano is going plunk, plunk, plunk. And I look back, and there’s this skinny kid with a corduroy cap on, you know, and it’s Bob. And another time he came up and stood behind me and started harmonizing. That’s where that picture you sometimes see. He just showed up. He wasn’t on the job. He was wanting to be part of the scene, right? And then he got better.

Well, then I met him on a — we did a television show called Folksville or something like that. It was a special, a Westinghouse special. It was John — do you remember a guy named John Henry Faulk? He was a comedian from Texas, and he got blacklisted. And he got — he had a whole fight with the government. He won a suit. He won a million dollars, which all the lawyers took, of course. But that show was because of him getting — launching his career again.

AMY GOODMAN: Did you sing any Bob Dylan songs or sing — remember what you sang with, maybe, Bob Dylan?

BARBARA DANE: Yeah, yeah. But, I mean, let me tell you about that show, though, because it was — it had the Staples Singers, a young Mavis, you know, beautiful as she was, and soul, that voice. And it had the New Lost City Ramblers and this one and that one. But I tell you, looking back at that thing, I look at it and I see that this Bob kid, who it was his first time on TV, he was the best one on the show. I stunk. I thought I really stunk on the show, because I was — I had the feeling that the show was supposed to be characters, and I was playing characters with each song. He was being himself. You know, he was being himself. And he really — he had “Hollis Brown,” I think he’s sang, heartrending songs, you know? But he was the best on the show.

But anyway, then, not long after that, I get a call, and I was living in L.A. then. I get a call. Ben Shapiro, who is an entrepreneur in the jazz and folk music world there, called me and said, “Come on over. I have this guy who wants to meet you, play you some of his new songs that he just wrote.” And I’m always looking for material. Go to Ben’s house. First of all, Ben’s got Miles Davis there, and I meet Miles. “Hello, Miles.” That’s the only time I ever met Miles. And then they went back in the kitchen and stayed out of the way. Well, here’s this Bob Dylan that I had just met on the TV show. And they told me to bring my tape machine. So, we sat down on the floor in the living room, and I open up the tape machine, and he taped off about a dozen songs, which later became The Freewheelin’ album.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about The Freewheelin’ album.

BARBARA DANE: Well, you know, everything on there is so precious, so incredible. It’s got — let’s see. What’s on there? Oh Lord, I don’t have enough memory left to tell you the songs, but —

AMY GOODMAN: Well, talk about “Free Willy,” [sic] the title song.

BARBARA DANE: Is it a title? No, it isn’t.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, talk about “Free Willy” [sic].

BARBARA DANE: That’s just the name of the album, Freewheelin’. There wasn’t any song attached to it. So, like, don’t talk about that.

AMY GOODMAN: Why was it called Freewheelin’?

BARBARA DANE: I have no idea. No idea. Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to the — you performing a folk song on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.

BARBARA DANE: [singing] Yeah, if don’t go
Don’t you hinder me
'Cause I'm on my way, glory, hallelujah
I’m on my way

Well, I’m on my way now, and I won’t turn back
I’m on my way, and I won’t turn back
I’m on my way, won’t turn back
Yeah, I’m on my way, glory,
Yeah, I’m on my way.

AMY GOODMAN: Did you meet Alfred Hitchcock?

BARBARA DANE: He doesn’t come to those things. It’s a franchise thing. I mean, you know, he puts his name on it and has a whole team that does it. But James Mason was so nice to meet. He was so funny and so kind. And also, he did me a nice little turn, because after that song, I sing another song. And meanwhile, he’s supposed to be over making small talk with Angie Dickinson over — they’re supposed to be pretending that they’re just meeting, and so they’re in that. But he keeps looking back, visually referring to me. And I thought, “That’s because he knows I’m a beginner.” I mean, you know, I’m just trying to get my career going, and he’s just throwing me a little attention. It was just — I knew what he meant, you know?

And he was — oh, he told me a funny story back in the — you know, sitting in the trailer, that — he says, “You know, I can’t make a living being James Mason all the time.” He says, “I got all these gigs where I just do the sidekick in all these Westerns and things. I just put on a big hat and a mustache or something, and I have a different name I use,” which I think was a cockamamie story, but, you know, he was just making fun talk for me. But it’s interesting to think, maybe it’s true. I don’t know.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan, back in the ’60s, ’64, released an album, among the songs “Masters of War.”


AMY GOODMAN: Can you perform that a little bit here?

BARBARA DANE: Sure, yeah. I performed that — I recorded it on a really early record with Judy — Judy Collins pulled together a bunch of women for a women for peace benefit somehow, and I sang it on there, not very great. I wasn’t very good then. Anyway, so, I like the way we do it now, because we put bite into it, a lot of bite. My son Pablo plays Jimi Hendrix-style guitar, and so I can say, “Come you masters of war, You that build all the guns.” You know, it’s — oh, I can’t do it just off the cuff, because it’s too emotional, Amy. I can do it. I’m going to do it in Joe’s Pub on Thursday night. I am.

AMY GOODMAN: How does it feel to be going back to Joe’s Pub after, what, something like —

BARBARA DANE: Like 15 years, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Fifteen years.

BARBARA DANE: Fifteen, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: You performed right before the U.S. invaded Iraq.

BARBARA DANE: Yes, yes, yeah. A couple of — a man who was running the Alan Lomax Archives — his name is Don Fleming — pulled together a show just to — he thought it was — he discovered the songbook that Irwin and I had produced, which, by the way, I think it’s still the only thing — only place you can find a whole book called The Vietnam Songbook with the songs coming from not just — not just professional songwriters. I got them from — I got them from GIs and, you know, active-duty people, from activists and all kinds of sources. And it’s amazingly documented. If you went — found that in the library — you probably can — and just read through it and look at the pictures, you would get the story of the war right there in that book. So, anyhow, Vietnam Songbook.

At the Lomax Archive, they found that book, and they said, “OK, this is the time.” The Iraq War was about to kick off. “This is the time to encourage people to write more songs like that and let music — music — play its role.” So they thought of having a thing at Joe’s Pub. And they got — there was a young group, a rock group, that was very popular then, Sonic Youth. And Sonic Youth came and played, and they gave us their rehearsal space they rehearse in. And who else was on that show? I think Maria Muldaur’s daughter was on the show.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about Sing Out!, the magazine, that, well, your partner, then husband, Irwin Silber, edited.

BARBARA DANE: Yeah. Well, Irwin was asked by Pete and some other people. They founded it. Paul Robeson was part of the group. Earl Robinson, I think, and quite a few, advisory board. And they formed this magazine out of the remnants of People’s Song Bulletin. And that, by the way, is all in — I think that’s in — the People’s Song Bulletin material is all in the library in Detroit at the Wayne State Library, if somebody wants to look for it.

But anyway, the Sing Out! magazine then was, oh, about maybe eight pages. Then it got to be 12 or 16. And now it’s a big magazine. And it’s been going ever since. But Irwin was an editor for the first 17 years. And it was the place where all the folk singers converged, because all the ads were, you know, for the — had to look — well, they had a policy. The ads had to be in the back of the book, because the main thing was all songs, you know.

AMY GOODMAN: So, did you meet Paul Robeson?

BARBARA DANE: I never did. But Irwin knew him fairly well. They worked together. In fact, they did a whole book, a songbook, together.

AMY GOODMAN: And you saw the enormous price paid for blacklisting?

BARBARA DANE: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. I did. Yes, a lot of people paid that price, you know? And it — I mean, Irwin would go out of the office — he had an office right off Times Square. Sometimes an FBI guy would walk along beside him on the sidewalk in front. “Do you want to be debriefed?” is the way they put it. “No, I don’t want to be debriefed. Goodbye.” I know we were going to the Soviet Union, Irwin and I, because Irwin was writing a book. And I was going to sing at a festival in Leningrad. And they call us up. You know, “Do you want to be — when you come back, are you willing to be debriefed?” “No, sorry.”

AMY GOODMAN: Well, you went — you were the first U.S. singer to perform after the revolution in Cuba, right?

BARBARA DANE: That’s right.

AMY GOODMAN: Like 1966.

BARBARA DANE: Yeah, yeah. And you’re wondering how that came about, I’m sure. Yeah, because I had been dreaming about Cuba for ever since reading C. Wright Mills’ book, you know, about Listen, Yankee, and looking at the — looking at the progress there. And actually, before that, my first husband Rolf had won the prize for selling the most Daily Worker subscriptions, and he got to go to Cuba. That was the prize. He came back raving about the different people and different — and so I was thinking about the Cuban Revolution.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to a clip of you performing in Cuba.


BARBARA DANE: [singing] We won’t go!
And it’s hell no, we won’t go!
And we just ain’t gonna go!
It takes a real man to say, “No!”
It takes a real man to say, “I won’t go!”
It takes a real man to say, “No!”
And Stokely Carmichael ain’t gonna go!
Well, it’s hell no, we won’t go!

AMY GOODMAN: So, that was quite an amazing moment for you.

BARBARA DANE: Yeah, that was on the Isle of Youth in Cuba. They had just dedicated it. It used to be the Isle of Pines. And the youth were — you know, took over the island, really, and built — they built these schools out there for kids that had been in distressed places. For example, they brought a whole bunch of kids that were in the Cassinga massacre. And, you know, the South Africans had — you probably know the story. So, they brought them all there. And we have a history with visiting those schools, Pablo and me. Hoo, boy, there’s so much to tell about that. But I guess —

AMY GOODMAN: And wasn’t this part of the inspiration for you founding Paredon Records?

BARBARA DANE: Absolutely. But the first time I went was just me going down there to — they wanted somebody — you know, they had always had this “Cuba sí, Yanqui no” slogan during the revolutionary days. And they wanted to put people’s mind at ease. It wasn’t “Cuba sí, American people no.” It was “Cuba sí, American policy no.”

AMY GOODMAN: “Cuba yes, American policy no.”

BARBARA DANE: Yeah, that’s right. So, that was my job, right? They first asked Pete, and Pete had — he had a feeling he couldn’t do it until he did a tour in Latin America, and that would be part of the tour and all that. But just to go individually to that place seemed like a defiant act, and his people back in Beacon wouldn’t understand it. And that’s what he said. So he said to Estela Bravo, who was organizing it. She’s a filmmaker, a great Cuban filmmaker. Estela, actually, originally was from New York, and she knew the scene. She knew Pete. So, she was looking for him to go. And when he said he wouldn’t, she said, “Well, who can we get?” And he said, “Well, Barbara. I know she wants to go.” So, I went there not realizing what a big deal it was going to be. And I got off the plane. Irwin was with me. Now that I’m getting my FBI files, I see they also had some agent on the plane, too. But we —

AMY GOODMAN: You’re getting your FBI files?

BARBARA DANE: Yeah, I am, but they’re getting too big for the living room. I don’t know. And they’re also stalling me on the main stuff, you know, but I’ve got lots of stuff.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you didn’t realize you had a traveling companion going to Cuba?

BARBARA DANE: Well, I always figure there’s somebody there. You know, it’s par for the course. But, anyway, I get off the plane, and there’s Santiago Álvarez, a great documentarist, you know, with his camera crew, and everybody’s there. And boom, boom, boom. Next thing you know, they gave me a whole night on television, Saturday night. Do what you want. Have the whole evening. What guests do you want on the show? We had Carlos Puebla, the great, like the Pete Seeger of Cuba or something, you know, and Joseíto Fernández, who wrote the “Guantanamera.” It was amazing.

AMY GOODMAN: And what did you perform?

BARBARA DANE: Oh, a whole string of stuff, of course.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you remember any particular song?

BARBARA DANE: Yeah, I was trying to make a whole panorama of America, you know, all in one gulp, so I’m teaching them. I remember the guy who was emceeing was Fidel’s emcee, on his official, very formal shows. But they said, “He speaks good English, so we’ll have him emcee your show.” It was in the Amadeo Roldán, like the Carnegie Hall of Havana, you know, huge, beautiful auditorium. And so, I get this guy. They said, “He’s very formal and all that. It’d be fun to see how he reacts to you.” So I got him doing a play party song. And what was it? “Little Sally Walker sitting in a saucer,” one of those kind of songs. “Send for the doctor. Ride, sally, ride. Hands on your hip, let your backbone slip.” You know, and he’s doing this stuff, and the audience is cracking up. It was really — it was a good moment. Anyway, that TV show went all over the country, and I couldn’t — then I couldn’t go anywhere, except that people noticed my sandals, which were a certain cut that nobody had seen. And they weren’t used to women wearing sandals, flat shoes, and especially Americans. They thought I should have — you know, I should be dressed like Doris Day or something. And —

AMY GOODMAN: So you met Fidel Castro?

BARBARA DANE: Yes, of course, I did.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about that meeting.

BARBARA DANE: Yes. Ah, well, yes. I was wrapping up the whole thing, ready to go home. I couldn’t go right back home because I didn’t have proper papers to go to Canada. So I had to wait for the right flight. They had to send me to Europe. And while I’m waiting —

AMY GOODMAN: Because you couldn’t fly directly to the United States.

BARBARA DANE: No, they had to fly me to Spain, and then back to New York. So, while I’m waiting at that, one day, I get this — actually, Estela and I were at the Russian Embassy, because I was trying to hustle an invitation there. I wanted to go to the Soviet Union. I had never, you know, sung over there. And I thought this will be — this would be my next move. And we get a phone call. “Drop everything. Go to your hotel.” And Estela goes, “Mm-hmm.” And so we go back toward the hotel, and we see that the streets are blocked off. And we get there, and we get — it’s the Capri Hotel, right on the main drag there.

And here’s Fidel standing on the steps, welcoming me, hand out. “Hello, and thank you for coming here,” and all that about, “You know, you took a big risk to be able to do this.” Well, then we start to talk, and then he says, “Well, where can we talk?” And so, OK, let’s — so, we go up to my room, him, me, Estela Bravo and Dr. Vallejo, René Vallejo, who is his side helper. And we went upstairs and started to talk about things. And, you know, the main thing I noticed about that man was how curious he was about — and how well equipped to ask questions. So, he wants to know about the peace movement. He wants to know about the antiracist movement? What have I been doing? You know, who are the personalities, and what’s going on? The real thing, you know. He doesn’t want to go by The New York Times reports. He wants to know what’s really. So, instead of saying it [inaudible] —

AMY GOODMAN: He spoke English to you?

BARBARA DANE: Well, you know, he under— he lived in the States for a little while, people don’t realize. He did understand English, but he didn’t like to speak it, you know, especially if you’re trying to use content that may be confused. So, Vallejo translated for him, and Estela translated for me. And I didn’t speak any Spanish then, besides the obvious. But he was so curious. And I thought, you know, I mean — well, for one thing, he asked me — he said, “We’re going to have this big meeting soon of these — ]all these different groups in Latin America. We want to have somebody from the States to talk about the general condition of war and peace in the area, whatever. And who should we invite from the States? So I said, “Oh, Stokely Carmichael,” because he was, at the time, in the news a lot, the Black Power slogan and all that. And so, that’s how Stokely got invited. But Stokely doesn’t know that, that I was the one who said, “You should get him.”

But anyway, I was very impressed with that, and I — ever since, I call Fidel the great teacher. You know, I see that as his main thing. He was really more concerned with learning and giving, giving out. Those long four-hour speeches he would give, or five-hour speeches, that wasn’t him blowing hot air. That was him talking a summary of stuff that his whole team of people had talked over in many, many, many meetings, I’m sure, and had made all these, you know — and so he’s educating a population that may not have access to a radio or TV, or maybe doesn’t even read that well yet, because, you know, literacy was new in the country. So, he’s educating them all to the progress that the revolution is making. And that’s why I call him the great teacher. You know, he really — that was a thing.

AMY GOODMAN: So, at the same time that you went to Cuba, '66, also ’67 you go back, you're also deeply involved with the civil rights movement.


AMY GOODMAN: You go to Mississippi. You meet with Fannie Lou Hamer. Talk about what was happening for you then.

BARBARA DANE: Well, there was a time when you just didn’t know which way to go, because there was so many issues and so much activity, and so much — to me, the cultural side of it, you know, really, that’s when it’s at its most useful, you know, because you’ve got everybody in activity, but they’re looking for what holds them together.

AMY GOODMAN: In fact, go back to 1964, the killing of Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman in Mississippi — 


AMY GOODMAN: — the three civil rights.

BARBARA DANE: That’s when I was in — I was there while they were missing. They didn’t know what had happened to them.

AMY GOODMAN: You were in Mississippi?


AMY GOODMAN: You went down because of them going missing?

BARBARA DANE: Because of that, and because of — the idea was that we were going to — they called it a caravan. And we recruited a few other singers. Judy Collins went down, Phil Ochs, Gil Turner, I think, a handful. Singers went down to basically try to get some press to come there and cover this thing, because they weren’t even — basically, weren’t even covering the disappearance. So, yeah, that’s — and so, we were going around to these different small towns and singing. And, oh, there’s so many great stories about that. I wish we had three days or four days to talk about all this.

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, at that time, in ’64, when you were down in Mississippi, they were digging up one Black body after another —

BARBARA DANE: After another.

AMY GOODMAN: — as they were looking for Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman.

BARBARA DANE: Yes, and hauling them out of the river, you know, yeah, one after another. That’s right. Yeah, this is not a peaceful country, Amy. You know, we have — I mean, look, I got both sides of my family, is from long, long way back. I don’t even know when my — my dad’s family was so — probably from indentured or out of prison for debtors’ prison or something, because they never talked. They didn’t have any history. They didn’t know anything about where they came from. They just were in Arkansas and — or, they were in Kentucky first, and then Arkansas. And I don’t know anything about them, but I know they were in the country since way, way back. My mother’s family, there’s more history there. We know they were — one of them was a itinerant preacher, went down to Arkansas with the Bible and riding his mule, trying to recruit some, teach people to be whatever Christians and, you know.

And so, this country, you know, has such a potential, had such potential, and such hopes. Everybody who came here had such hopes for, you know, a new beginning, new — nothing like the old place, where you get busted for this or that or put in jail for not being able to pay your bills. This is going to be America with a new freedom and all that. And then, what do we do? We destroy millions to take the land, bring other millions here to work the land, you know, and develop this culture we’ve got. And now I think part of the problem we have is that there’s this huge vestigial guilt that people walk around with, and they don’t know how to get rid of it. And they think it must be somebody else’s fault, or it’s got to be — you know, it’s a whole lot of mythology about that.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to you and the Chambers Brothers singing “Freedom Is a Constant Struggle.”

BARBARA DANE and THE CHAMBERS BROTHERS: [singing] They say that freedom is a constant struggle,
They say that freedom is a constant struggle,
They say that freedom is a constant struggle,
O Lord, we’ve struggled so long,
We must be free, we must be free.

They say that freedom is a constant sorrow,
They say that freedom is a constant sorrow,
They say that freedom is a constant sorrow,
O Lord, we’ve sorrowed so long,
We must be free, we must be free.

They say that freedom is a constant dying.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Barbara Dane and the Chambers Brothers singing “Freedom Is a Constant Struggle,” Fannie Lou Hamer’s song.


AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about meeting Fannie Lou Hamer, and the significance of the Chambers Brothers and how you came to perform with them.

BARBARA DANE: Well, I met them at the Ash Grove, when I was singing in Hollywood at the Ash Grove. And they were just a gospel quartet at the time. They had come from Mississippi. And they were brought to the Ash Grove to sing a gospel program. And I heard that, and I thought, “Oh, they’re the perfect people to help me out with all these freedom songs I’m trying to do by myself. It would be much better to have some people like that work with me.” So I invited them a few times. And then, we never rehearsed, by the way, never, never had the time or whatever. But we just fell right in, you know, something about it. There was something about the harmony, the whole thing, I just could fall right in with them. And so, the —

AMY GOODMAN: Fannie Lou Hamer, did she teach you the song?

BARBARA DANE: In Mississippi, well, I heard her sing it, and she — at the meeting. And, you know, but she had an interesting idea. When I was in Indianola, I guess it was, she said she wanted to get together a few of the older folks and sit in the park and have me tell them about the blues in my — that I was singing the blues. And I thought, “This is — this is kind of a weird task, you know? This is the home of this. This is where all this stuff came from.” What I would like to get across to them is — I don’t know, because Mississippi was a closed circuit. It was — people in Mississippi, it was like being in another world. Communication with the outside world was very limited. So I thought they don’t realize — maybe they don’t realize how important their music has become, how many people love it, how many people support it, how many people sing it, play it. So I tried to talk about that. But then I was kind of — it was hard, because I’m looking at these guys, and they were all — and they’re, you know, like — you can tell when people have had a really hard day and a hard life, and they brought it all to the table. I’m thinking, if I were in their shoes, I know they’re only here because Ms. Hamer told them to come. And so, you know, this is too big a job. They don’t need to be here. So I made it kind of short, and they went on home.

But then I — I had just that whole moment of — and now you go back there. As I can tell — I haven’t been there, but I can see on YouTube there’s a whole building and a museum, and everybody’s — they’ve turned it into a tourist industry. You know, you can go down Highway 51 and see all the great monuments or whatever, probably not nearly as much as deserved. But so, Ms. Hamer, she came to New York a few times, you know, and she — I actually brought her to our doctor. She had some physical problems and like that, but we didn’t have much time to —

AMY GOODMAN: She had beaten by police in jail — 

BARBARA DANE: Yeah, yeah. She had —

AMY GOODMAN: — for trying to organize people to vote.

BARBARA DANE: That’s right. So, there was not a lot of time to just sit around and gossip. But, you know, she was there.

AMY GOODMAN: I just want to read from a small community newspaper about, well, a moment you had in Mississippi. “Perhaps I was not the only one who thought, as we sang, of the young girl who had been shot a few weeks before as she stood by an open window during a mass meeting in a church in Hattiesburg, or of the tear gas thrown into so many mass meetings over the Deep South. I realized then, as so many others before me had, that it didn’t matter. The police outside didn’t matter. Tear gas didn’t matter. Shots didn’t matter. Fire bombs didn’t matter. We were safe because we were right, we were together, we were singing, and the songs made us strong. There were more of us in the state and all over the country than there were of them, the enemy, and we would win. We were not afraid.” So, those were the words from the paper. You must remember that moment. Can you even sing one of the songs you were leading folks in prayer almost?

BARBARA DANE: Oh, yeah, I could do — I could do that. One of the songs that I brought with me from Berkeley, Malvina had just written a song called “It Isn’t Nice.” And her way of singing it was kind of pokey. You know, “It isn’t nice to block the doorway. It isn’t nice to go to jail.” And I said, “No, I’m going to a part of the world where the — you know, the beat is the thing.” So I change it. “It isn’t nice to block the doorway. It isn’t nice to go to jail. There are nicer ways to do it. But the nice ways always fail. It isn’t nice. It isn’t nice. We told you once. We told you twice. But if that’s freedom’s price, we don’t mind.” Make the audience sing. “We don’t mind. We don’t mind. We don’t mind. We don’t mind.” And make them dance. And so, that was Malvina’s song, but she she eventually agreed that it was OK to — Judy wanted to record it. Judy Collins had been there and heard me sing it. And so she wanted to record it. She had a recording contract. I didn’t. But she said, “Do you mind if I record it?” And I said, “Oh, sure.” So she recorded with my tune. So, then, Malvina, “OK, that’s fine.” So we shared that.

AMY GOODMAN: And “You’re Gonna Reap What You Sow.”

BARBARA DANE: Oh, I got that from Bessie Jones of the great Bessie Jones from the Georgia Sea Islands. And Bessie would sing. I took her by once a demonstration. I was driving her somewhere, and we passed this church, to pick up my older son, who was demonstrating against nuclear stuff. And I said, “Well, we got to get out and help him out a little bit, sing him a little bit.” And so we got out, and we start. And Bessie starts, “Well, you’re gonna reap, you’re gonna reap just what you sow, what you sow. You’re gonna reap.” So I put in, “McNamara is gonna to reap,” and all those archenemies of that moment, you know?

And these songs, you know, they all have built-in flexibility. They all come from — they come from a culture of involving everyone in the room, of passing on information to people who may or may not be able to read, you’d have to teach it to. So it repeats. All that’s built in there from the ancient days, from Africa, from a long time ago. And we have these songs, the forms, in English now.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Barbara Dane, in 1970, like, oh, six years after you’ve married your partner, Irwin Silber — 


AMY GOODMAN: — after you’ve gone to Cuba, after you’ve performed at Carnegie Hall, you start Paredon, the record label —


AMY GOODMAN: — to put out songs of freedom struggles around the world. Talk about this.

BARBARA DANE: Yes. Well, that was right after coming back from the Canción Protesta in Cuba in ’67. And I had just then — because of that, all these people from all kinds of parts of the world came together, and we exchanged songs, exchanged ideas, exchanged contacts. I started touring everywhere because of the invitations I got from other singers putting in the word here and there. You know, “We need her to come to this festival or this meeting.”

And it was — but after that, when I brought all these songs, you know, the U.S. was even more xenophobic then than it is now. People were so shut in. You know, nobody spoke anything but English, so to speak, I mean, officially, you know. Nobody wanted to hear about other cultures. But I said, “OK, they got to know these songs and these people,” so I started trying to sing different languages. That didn’t work. I started trying to translate them into English lyrics. That didn’t work. Well, sometimes. I got a couple good songs out of that.

But then, I said, “We have to have the voices of those people themselves available. We have to be able to put them in people’s hands. So, we got to have a record label.” So I started telling everybody, I’d say, “What are you doing since you came back from Cuba? Well, I’m going to have a record label. Blah, blah, blah.” You know, “Where are you going to — how are you going to do it?” And eventually, somebody stepped forward, said, “I’ll give you a one-time donation. Don’t ever ask me for more. Don’t come back to me with what you did. Just do it.” So we did it. And we got out four records, to start with, which —

AMY GOODMAN: Who gave you the donation?

BARBARA DANE: I can’t tell. To this day, I can’t tell. Said, “Don’t tell anybody where you got it.” I’ll have to say this, though. It was the renegade of a Big Tobacco fortune. OK? That’s all I can tell you. Mm-hmm. He may be —

AMY GOODMAN: I just want to remind you — 


AMY GOODMAN: — that it is 48 years later.

BARBARA DANE: Well, but that was his — he said, “Don’t ever tell where you got it.” And I won’t. I mean, [inaudible] —

AMY GOODMAN: Can he release you from that oath now?

BARBARA DANE: If he said to, OK, yeah. You know what? I have a tendency, because of my living through McCarthy days, if I don’t need those names, erase. And so, I couldn’t even tell you the guy’s name now. I can tell you what fortunate it was, but…

AMY GOODMAN: So, you put out Canción Protesta. That’s Protest Song


AMY GOODMAN:of Latin America.

BARBARA DANE: That was — yeah. That was —

AMY GOODMAN: That was your first album.

BARBARA DANE: Mm-hmm. But I got a hold of people that I knew had just been to Angola, and I got material from them, and they recorded back in the field in hospitals and so forth with —

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, the songs you put out are amazing, like Bernice Reagon’s first record, of Sweet Honey in the Rock later.

BARBARA DANE: Yeah, but it wasn’t —

AMY GOODMAN: But her first record.

BARBARA DANE: And you know what? When you listen to that, you don’t know this, but I’m going to — that’s only Bernice. There’s no Sweet Honey. She didn’t have Sweet Honey. Sweet Honey was in her head. She knew how to sing all those parts. So she went in the studio, and she did this track all the way through, then another voice all the way through. She had a checker in. That was it.

AMY GOODMAN: So it was all Bernice, all —

BARBARA DANE: All Bernice. All Bernice.

AMY GOODMAN: All the tracks.


AMY GOODMAN: And then Silvio Rodríguez, of course, the famous Cuban musician.

BARBARA DANE: Yes, great.

AMY GOODMAN: Marcel Khalifé.

BARBARA DANE: Yeah, yeah. I got him, because some —

AMY GOODMAN: The Lebanese musician.

BARBARA DANE: — some Palestinian students in Cuba, who had been brought there to — you know, given some study opportunity, came to me and said, “You got to put this guy out,” because they knew about the label, because they — you could hear it some — hear about it in Cuba. And so, I went after it, and I put it out. I couldn’t — it was — I don’t know. I finally met him, and I had to confess, OK, I did it without any papers or any permission, but we had to get it out.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about Sing Out!, the huge anti-Vietnam War event/concert at Carnegie Hall in ’65?


AMY GOODMAN: Even before you went to Cuba.

BARBARA DANE: Right after, just a few weeks after, the Bay of Tonkin, we, Irvin and I, were driving up to the Newport Folk Festival, which, by the way, I only was invited to once.


BARBARA DANE: And then I got in hot water because I exposed some of the George Wein’s business practices in print.


BARBARA DANE: I’m not going to tell that. Too long.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, you put it in print.

BARBARA DANE: I did. You have to look in The Village Voice. It’s in there somewhere. So, now, first I gave it to their whole board. I mailed everybody a copy of my bill of complaints. And nobody answered, so I took it to the Voice. So, then, that found — that created a situation where I have never been on an American Folk Festival since then. I mean, that’s like all lifetime.

AMY GOODMAN: You were never invited.

BARBARA DANE: All lifetime, I haven’t been on an American Folk Festival. They never invite me, or jazz festival, because George Wein owns them all, you know. Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, Carnegie Hall?

BARBARA DANE: So, Carnegie Hall. We’re driving up to the festival. We’re thinking about the war. I mean, what can we do? What can we do? We have to do something. And Irwin, of course, was editor of Sing Out! Right at the time they invented these things on campuses called teach-in. Teach-in. So, Irwin, being a clever word man, said, “Oh, all right. Well, we’ll call it Sing In. OK, sing, yeah. Sing In, Sing In for Peace. So, good. Let’s do the event.” Well, how could — so, we kind of dreamed the whole thing up on the way up to Newport, because we knew we were going to see all the people we needed to contact to try to get them to be part of the sponsor. So we got Harold Leventhal on board. We got Jac Holzman from Elektra Records. We got D’Lugoff, Art D’Lugoff, with the, you know —

AMY GOODMAN: Village Gate.

BARBARA DANE: Village Gate. And I don’t know, several people. Most key was Leventhal, of course, because Leventhal had relations with Carnegie Hall and had dates already booked and held, so he could get a date there. So, anyway, at the time, you know, we’re at the festival, ran around and talked to as many people as we could, singers, and said, “Would you be interested?” So, then, I got the job of coordinating the whole thing. I was pretty new in town. I had only moved there, you know, in ’64, end of ’64. This is ’65. So, singing —

AMY GOODMAN: What did you perform there at Carnegie Hall?

BARBARA DANE: I didn’t perform.

AMY GOODMAN: Oh, you didn’t.

BARBARA DANE: I produced the whole thing.

AMY GOODMAN: You produced it.

BARBARA DANE: But, because I was a producer, see, I knew, well, you know, we couldn’t possibly fit everybody into the hall. On the first, we got — right away, we sold out. And we got them to do a second show. And it was going to last 'til 3:00 in the morning. And I knew I'd have to cut somebody, so I figured it’s easier to cut myself.

AMY GOODMAN: So, who sang?

BARBARA DANE: Who sang? Well, it was a very wide bunch of people, because my spectrum is big. And I invited everyone I could think of. So, Joan Baez, of course, was big news then, and she turned out to be the only one we had do a song on both shows, only one, because everybody else — we had 60 people to get into two shows. But, oh.

AMY GOODMAN: And it was — Fannie Lou Hamer came?

BARBARA DANE: Well, Fannie Lou Hamer, I want to tell you about her in a minute. I was going to raise that later, because here’s what — of course, we asked everybody, the logical people, the great heroes of American protest music, right? Like Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul and Mary and Odetta. None of them came, because Albert Grossman was their manager then, and Albert Grossman felt that it would, he said, that it would interfere with their civil rights work. It would confuse things, so they didn’t want them to be on this peace thing. Well, Fannie Lou Hamer and Bob Moses came and sat in the audience and soaked up the show. Fannie Lou Hamer came on stage and sang. So, go figure, you know.

AMY GOODMAN: And it wasn’t just musicians.

BARBARA DANE: And I was trying to — we didn’t — you know how much the folk world is white, when you — and I couldn’t — I couldn’t come up with the — I’m fishing around. Then I thought, “Oh, there’s these poets.” I know Walter Lowenfels is a great poet, who not enough people know about Walter Lowenfels, because he was also a red, blacklisted a lot. But he was a great poet and a great anthologist, too. And he was getting — he was organizing an anthology of young Black poets, which included at the time Ishmael Reed, David Henderson. I forget a bunch of others. And so, I pass it on to him, and he got those guys involved. They performed. Vivica Lindfors, an actress, Swedish actress, she wanted to do it. So she gave a little piece.

I invited some kids from summer camps, some groups, to come, because they all knew Pete, you know. And, of course, Pete performed. But they all knew the whole thing about the — you know, what — they were there at summer camp, where you — at camp, you learned about peace and justice, right? So, they came, three different groups, I think, including Janis Ian, who was then called — she was called Janis Fink. That was her real birth name. And we kept saying, “Well, if she’s going to change the name, it should be Janis Goodbread, because fink is good bread.” Anyway, but she changed it to Ian, which was her brother’s name, and Janis Ian.

It was the first major antiwar demonstration, really, of that nature or any — it was huge. I mean, it was like 7,000 paid admissions, right? We took the money and used it to buy an ad in the Times to state the case.

AMY GOODMAN: Against the war.

BARBARA DANE: Against the war.


BARBARA DANE: That’s right. So, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Barbara Dane. I wanted to go to some of the songs you performed in our studio. Talk about why you chose “Be Reasonable.”

BARBARA DANE: Oh, well, it says exactly what I like to tell people. Don’t hold back. You know, get out there and make a plan and follow it. And whatever somebody tells you won’t work, no, it’ll work. Listen, you’re an example of that. Who the hell would think you could have done — built this whole thing and have your own independence all these years, building it, like Mark Lane used to say about the GI movement? He’d say, “Well, I was in the Army,” he’d tell the GIs, “and we built that Army brick by brick. And now we’re going to take it apart brick by brick.” Well, Amy built this thing brick by brick.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I work with a remarkable group of people. But let’s go to “Be Reasonable.”

BARBARA DANE: Oh, yes. My good friend Robb Johnson in England wrote this. He’s a school teacher and a very great songwriter. But his version was totally aimed at the English population, and the terminology was pretty strange language for us, so I made an English-language version — an American version of his famous — well, here’s the phrase. I want you to sing it right over there at home, on your TV. Here’s the phrase.

[singing] Be reasonable, and demand the impossible now.

OK, sing that.

[singing] Be reasonable, and demand the impossible now.
All right, first we’ll tear down the towers, bring back the neighborhoods,
Start at the bottom, work down to the top,
House all the homeless, in the great halls of Congress,
Ban all the guns and bust all the bad cops,
And be reasonable, and demand the impossible now.
Be reasonable, demand the impossible now.

Well, we free up the freeways for bike lanes and walkways,
Fast Tracks and toll booths can all be shut down,
Make systems for people, the differences equal,
Instead of the wrong way around.
Well, be reasonable, and demand the impossible now.
Be reasonable, and demand the impossible now, now, now.

With parking lots filled up with playgrounds and schools,
We can do what we like 'cause we like what we do.
We'll build gardens and hospitals in every mall,
And we’ll stop the wars once and for all.
Stop the wars once and for all!
Stop the wars once and for all! Yeah!
Be reasonable, and demand the impossible now.
Yes, be reasonable, and demand the impossible now.

Then we’ll spring all the monkeys and unmask the clowns,
Let their circus elections lose focus,
Let the rich singing their blues 'til their trousers fall down
And they drown in their own hocup-pocus.
Yeah, be reasonable, and demand the impossible now.
Be reasonable — 
You're supposed to be dancing around in your living room now,
All right, and singing with us, yes. Dance. Dance.

You can tell all those Trumpies to pack up their stuff,
For we’ve booked them a fine destination.
There’s a place up on Mars where they’ll have time enough
For an endless horrendous vacation. Yeah!
Be reasonable, and demand the impossible now.
Dance! Dance!
Be reasonable, and demand the — there’s more.
Keep dancing. Take a breath.
Ah, two, three, four.

And their tea party buddies can pack up their odium,
Their stale xenophobia, no comfort to me.
They can stuff their opprobrium down the commodium,
And flush it far, far, far, far out to sea.
Be reasonable, and demand the impossible —
I hope you’re dancing. If you’re not, mm-mm, there’s something wrong.
We got to get this going right. We got more. You’ve got to dance.
Here we go. Yes!

Come this way, you tired, you poor and your homeless,
Your masses who yearn to be free.
That torch in her hand that still lights up the harbor
That Lady of Liberty hold out to thee,
Be reasonable, and demand the impossible now.
Yeah! Dance! Dance!
Be reasonable, and be — yeah, here’s the last verse now, two, three.

No master, no landlord, no boss, no guru,
No Gauleiter, no commissar.
Just justice and poetry.
Jam on it, too.
When they ask who’s in charge here,
We’ll answer, “We are!”
When asked who’s in charge here,
We’ll answer, “We are!”
When asked who’s in charge here,
We’ll answer, “We are!”
Yes! Say it at home. We are!
Who’s in charge here?
We are!
Be reasonable, demand the impossible now.
Be reasonable, demand the impossible now.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about “American Tune.”

BARBARA DANE: That song has great resonance for me. I think it’s one of the great — if you look at it just as a poem, it’s so well designed, so well framed and so compact. It tells you so much. In the first part, he’s talking about —

AMY GOODMAN: It’s written by?

BARBARA DANE: Paul Simon, uh-huh, one of our real national treasures. I would love to meet him. I never have met him. I love his work so much. I saw him do a fantastic concert with his band in Berkeley a year or so ago, and I was quite taken by the fact that even at his age, he’s expanding and growing and this, you know, and he’s got a very — his band is really well rehearsed and musically developed. Anyway, the song is a — he wrote it, I think, in the '70s, early to mid-'70s. And it was then about disillusionment of young people, you know, with all these hippie dreams and whatever, you know, utopian ideas.

BARBARA DANE: [singing] Many’s the time I’ve been mistaken
And many times confused
And I’ve often felt forsaken
And certainly misused

But I’m all right, I’m all right
Just weary to my bones
Still, you can’t expect to be bright, bon vivant
So far away from home, so far away from home

I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered
Don’t have a friend who feels at ease
I don’t have a dream that’s not been shattered
Or driven to its knees

I’m all right, I’m all right
We’ve lived so well so long
Still, when I think of the
Road we’re traveling on
I wonder what’s gone wrong
Can’t help it, I wonder what’s gone wrong

And I dreamed I was dying
I dreamed that my soul rose unexpectedly
And looking back down at me
Smiled reassuringly

And I dreamed I was flying
Well, high up above my eyes could clearly see
The Statue of Liberty
Sailing away to sea
I dreamed I was crying

We come on the ship they call The Mayflower
We come on the ship that sailed the moon
We come in the age’s most uncertain hours
And sing an American tune

And it’s all right, it’s all right
Well, can’t be forever blessed
Still, tomorrow’s going to be another working day
Just gotta get some rest
Can’t help it, I — I gotta — gotta get some rest.

Yes, and then we go out with the signs, after we’re rested up, and make that march.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s “American Tune” by Paul Simon, performed here at Democracy Now! by Barbara Dane. “King Salmon” goes a kind of different route. When did you write this song?

BARBARA DANE: Oh, I wrote it, I suppose, about 20 years ago. I was supposed to go sing out in Bodega at the Fisherman’s Festival. And I was thinking about, you know, the fish and what’s happening with the fish. And I do love salmon, and I know that it’s been a mainstay of Americans, from the Natives on down, you know, from Native people who still live on salmon up north. Salmon is a crucial being. And I know the Native peoples’ way is to thank the fish for giving his life that you could eat. So my song is kind of a thank you to the fish. But it’s also a warning that if you don’t, you know, pay attention, we won’t have any more salmon.

BARBARA DANE: [singing] He’s the king of the ocean
Salmon is the king of the sea
Oh, he’s the king of the ocean
Salmon is the king of the sea
Now you can talk about your tuna
But salmon, the king for me

Let me tell you a story
'Bout the way we've honored our king
Let me tell you a story
'Bout the way we've honored our king
Well, we destroyed his home and family
Like it didn’t mean a doggone thing

King Salmon’s cradle is the river
His home is the deep blue sea
King Salmon’s cradle is a river
His home, the deep blue sea
Whether fresh or whether salty
He roams the waters wild and free
Oh, roam a while

Now they dammed up all the rivers
Corrupted and defiled the sea that
They have dammed up all the rivers
Corrupted, defiled the sea
Put the salmon on a fish farm
The fisherman down his knee

Oh, Mother Nature’s grand design
Magnificent beyond belief
Man, Mother Nature’s grand design
Magnificent beyond belief
’Til she made two-legged creatures
Whose greed was greater than their need

King Salmon, O King Salmon
Please forgive our sins today
King Salmon, O King Salmon
Please forgive our sins today
'Cause you know we're only human
Got to find a better way

Now you can’t mess with Mother Nature
Together and just come away free
Oh, no, no, no, you can’t mess with Mother Nature
Forever and just get away free
We’re all standing in the judgment
So, people, what’s it gonna be?

AMY GOODMAN: That’s “King Salmon,” sung by, well, the woman who wrote it, Barbara Dane. Barbara, talk about “Tomorrow’s Another Day.”

BARBARA DANE: “Tomorrow’s Another Day” is an old song from the bebop era. And the only place I’ve ever heard it was sung by a guy named King Pleasure, who was a bebop singer. He’s got a couple records out from those days. I don’t even know his right name. And we’ve been trying to track down who wrote the song for a long time and haven’t been able to. If anybody knows, please let me hear from you.

But it’s called “Tomorrow’s Another Day.” And it says exactly — you know, pick yourself up and get going, because there’s more to be done, and you will — things might get better — you know, will get better. You know, lately, I’ve been using this idea that, you know, people think, OK, we’re in this horrible moment in history in our country. It looks like they’re destroying every institution we have if it’s any good, and giving us a tremendous amount of work to do to try to just hold the fort, let alone rebuild it. So, it’s very gloomy. But it doesn’t mean that it will always be that way, because every empire has fallen. And all of them have fallen, including even the British Empire. You know, they’re dwindled down to one little space. So it’s not a dog chasing its tail, history is not. History is a spiral. It goes very small. Every time it goes around, it goes a little bit higher. So it takes, you know, maybe a hundred years or a thousand years to get out of the caves and get clothing and whatever, all the things that we develop.

BARBARA DANE: [singing] Tomorrow, another day
Fortune may come your way
A thought of relief
Chase away the grief
Tomorrow, another day

When skiess above are gray
They don’t have to stay that way
A shoulder to cry on
Someone to rely on
Tomorrow’s another day

How sharp the pain is in my heart
How dark the future can seem
But tomorrow is a magic word
Filled with hope and dreams
When you’re looking through your tears
And things seem far away
Maybe you’re mistaking
The changes in the making
Tomorrow’s another day.

PABLO MENENDEZ: [singing] Tomorrow’s another day
Fortune may come your way
The thought of relief
May chase away your grief
Tomorrow’s another day

When skies above are gray
They don’t have to stay that way
A shoulder to cry on
Someone to rely on
Tomorrow’s another day

How sharp that pain that’s in my heart
How dark the future seems
But tomorrow is a magic word
It’s filled with hope and dreams
When you’re looking through your tears
Things may seem far away
But maybe you’re mistaken
A change is in the making
And tomorrow is another day

BARBARA DANE: [singing] Tomorrow is another day
I know a little fortune gonna come my way

PABLO MENENDEZ: [singing] Thought of relief
May chase away your grief
Tomorrow’s another day

BARBARA DANE: [singing] Yeah, and when skies above are gray
You know they don’t have to stay that way

PABLO MENENDEZ: [singing] A shoulder to cry on
Someone to rely on
Tomorrow’s another day

BARBARA DANE: That’s right.
[singing] How sharp the pain that’s in my heart
How dark that future can seem

PABLO MENENDEZ: [singing] But tomorrow is a magic word
It’s filled with hope and dreams
When you’re looking through your tears

BARBARA DANE: [singing] Things can seem so far away

BARBARA DANE and PABLO MENENDEZ: [singing] Maybe you’re mistaken
A change is in the making
And tomorrow’s another day
Oh yeah
Tomorrow’s another day
Oh, tomorrow’s another day
Oh, tomorrow’s another day
Tomorrow’s another day
Tomorrow’s another day
Tomorrow, tomorrow, mañana, mañana
Mañana, tomorrow
Tomorrow, tomorrow, mañana, mañana
Mañana, mañana

BARBARA DANE: Yeah, mañana, that’s it.
[singing] Tomorrow is another [scatting]
A little, little Charlie Parker in your day, day
Tomorrow is another day.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s “Tomorrow’s Another Day,” sung by Barbara Dane. “The New How Long Blues,” where did this come from?

BARBARA DANE: Well, the old “How Long,” I’ve always heard. Everybody does it. Mama Yancey was the queen of that song. It was a major, you know, thing in her life. But it’s all about — ostensibly, all about a male-female relationship. And it’s — but, actually, she’s got a verse in there I should quote, which is, “I’ve been down to the Delta. I’ve been, baby, and I’ve had my trials. But I can stand more trouble than any little woman my size.” There’s a verse for you. You’re a little woman, and you can stand more trouble than most any other woman I ever saw.

So, anyway, I know the song. I know the — but one day I was in the post office, and I was trying to mail a letter. But there was nobody in there but me and the post office guy. And he was a Black guy with the name of Mario. And I had a card in my purse. I said, “Here, I’m doing this blues show.” And I saw him look at me like, “What? What are you talking about? You can’t.” I said, “Yes, I can. I can do that. I’ll make a song about you.” So I said, “Hi, I’m your post — Mario, your postman, and here I stand all day long. I’m your post office man. How long? How long?”

And then I walked out, and I started thinking, “Wait a minute, that has room for everything.” So I started making up, “OK, I’m May Ling. I made your coat. And I can’t get a green card, can’t get a vote.” And who else? Then there’s Chico, and he — and it goes on through a whole list of friends and neighbors, whatever, you know, people that you would meet, saying how long will it be before their problems are addressed.

So, what I do now, I have a little new thing I do with it. I used to just have an instrumental to give me a breather in the middle, and you can — and now I just go and, when that’s going on, I go, like, “OK, everybody came in here with a lot of tension, a lot of problems, a lot of — you’re all weighed down with everything. I want you to shout out what are the things that right now are on your mind and bother you the most.” And I thought — when I first tried it, I thought this is pretty risky. Maybe they won’t shout anything. But, immediately, “Job! Job! Job!” comes all over the room. Then I said, “OK, no, but break it down. Break it down.” Then you start giving the issues, you know, housing, whatever, income, 15, give us a $15 wage, whatever, shouting all these things out. So, it’s just the song has kind of grown, and that’s where it is.

AMY GOODMAN: This is “The New How Long Will It Be Blues.”

BARBARA DANE: [singing] Good evening, people
How do you do?
I’d like to spend a little time with you
Talking about how long, how long, how long
Tell me how long

I am Tyrone, here I stand
All day long I’m your post office man
How long? How long? How long?
Tell me how long

Well, I am May Ling
I made your coat
Can’t get no green card, ain’t got no vote
How long? How long? How long?
Tell me how long

They call me Chico
Who do I thank?
No health insurance
Nothing in the bank
How long? How long? How long?
How long? How long? How long? How long?

I lost my mama, ain’t got no dad
And Katrina, Katrina took every friend I had
How long? How long? How long? How long?
Tell me how long

I’m Mary Lou
His name was Jack
Went to Iraq
And never coming back
How long? How long? How long?
How long? How long?
Tell me how long
Tell me, tell me how long

Well, I flip your burger
And I mop your floors
And I need the doctor
You slam the door
How long? How long? How long? How long?
Tell me how long

And I’m the wonder
I’m the wonder of the age
Still staying alive
On your minimum wage
I want to know how long
How long? How long? How long? How long?
How long?

But we are the ones
We’re the ones we’ve waited for
Our time is now
Can’t wait no more
How long? How long? How long?
How long? How long? How long?
How long? How long? How long?
How long? How long? How long?
How long? How long? How long?
How long? How long? How long?
How long? How long?
Tell me how long
How long? How long?


AMY GOODMAN: That’s “The New How Long Will It Be Blues,” Barbara Dane singing right here. And now the Smithsonian Folkways has just released a new retrospective titled Barbara Dane: Hot Jazz, Cool Blues & Hard-Hitting Songs. As we wrap up, Barbara, your final thoughts? You just hit 91, by the way. Happy birthday!

BARBARA DANE: Yes. Thank you. Well, OK, I guess one would be one I’ve already spoken about, and that is to not look at the — look at that empty half of the glass. Look at the other half, you know, and be aware of the fact that you — every single day has got challenges, but every single day has doors that open and show you some new ideas and new place to go, not to despair. That’s — you know, all that, if you don’t take part, if you don’t go out and involve yourself and engage yourself, and you just sit back and kind of mope, that’s surrender. You’ve already surrendered. You’re not even in the fight anymore.

Well, I don’t think anybody that’s watching this show wants to be a quitter. You’re not. So, get out there. And yeah, well, your audience is doing things. I know that. Everybody watching this show is, has signed a petition, has been in the marches, has written a letter, has stood in somebody’s office and made them listen to them or something. You’ve all done something. So, just keep doing it. Keep loving each other. Keep believing that it will get better. If you don’t do anything, it will not get better.

AMY GOODMAN: Does that inspire a thought of a song for you that you’d like to end with?

BARBARA DANE: Oh boy, what would I end with? At the end of the show, when everybody’s walking out, I go, “Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me 'round, turn me ’round, turn me ’round. Ain't gonna let nobody turn me ’round. I keep on walking, keep on talking, marching up to freedom land.”

AMY GOODMAN: Barbara Dane, thank you so much for this time and all that you’ve done.

BARBARA DANE: Amy, thanks for your lifetime of keeping us — well, you know. We all love you. We do.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, thank you so much, Barbara Dane, again. New Smithsonian Folkways album, Barbara Dane: Hot Jazz, Cool Blues & Hard-Hitting Songs. This is Democracy Now! Barbara Dane, the legendary singer and activist, who’s been making music for more than 70 years. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.

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