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GET UP, STAND UP: The Story of Pop and Protest Revolutionary Music
About the Program
Revolutionary Music
Flash Points
The Preacher and the Slave
We Shall Overcome
Give Peace a Chance
Get Up, Stand Up
Fight the Power
Did You Know?
"I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill," a poem in tribute to the songwriter, was set to music in 1936.
The Preacher and the Slave

Impoverished child
Considered Hill's masterpiece, "The Preacher and the Slave" was initially printed in the 1911 edition of the LITTLE RED SONGBOOK; it was his first contribution to the collection. The song mocked organized religion and the Salvation Army, whose sidewalk brass bands broadcasting a message of heavenly redemption were the Wobblies' main competition for the hearts and minds of the down and out. Referring to it as the "Starvation Army," the song mocked their lack of compassion for the temporal needs of struggling laborers and their siding with the bosses. In its last verses, the song urged workers to stand together, organize, and, when the bosses were defeated and asked how they were going to eat, tell them to learn to chop wood and cook.

Hill's song, sometimes called "Pie in the Sky" or "Long-Haired Preachers," is among a select group, along with his "The Rebel Girl," Ralph Chaplin's "Solidarity Forever," and Harry "Mac" MacClintock's "Hallelujah I'm a Bum," that debuted in the pages of the IWW songbook and continue to be sung. As unemployment swept the United States, even after Hill's execution in 1915 on dubious murder charges, these songs were kept alive in hobo camps by itinerant workers (many of whom belonged to the IWW), and poet Carl Sandburg's inclusion of "The Preacher and the Slave" in his influential 1927 anthology, THE AMERICAN SONGBAG, contributed to its adoption within the American folk tradition.

Coal miners
But unlike those other labor songs, "The Preacher and the Slave" has a staying power that is also tied to that one image -- the heaven-borne dessert. It entered the American vernacular almost immediately and went wherever English is spoken. For proof, look no further than Jamaica, 35 years ago, when a young Jimmy Cliff wrote the theme song for a film he was starring in, THE HARDER THEY COME. Its lyrics begin: "Well, they tell me of a pie up in the sky/Waiting for me when I die." The chances he'd ever heard of Joe Hill? None. But because the song catches the listener's ear with its very first line -- Hill's image -- it too has become a classic of protest.

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