Clip | Holly Near: Singing for Our Lives - Holly Near on the story behind “Singing For Our Lives”

Holly Near shares the touching story behind her famous song “Singing For Our Lives” and explains how it turned into an anthem for the LGBTQ movement. The song was written after she heard news of the assassination of city supervisor Harvey Milk, a champion of homosexual rights.

Directed by four-time Emmy Award-winner Jim Brown (American Masters — The Highwaymen: Friends Til The End, American Masters – Pete Seeger: The Power of Song), the documentary premieres nationwide Friday, March 1 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings) in honor of Women’s History Month and will be available to stream the following day via pbs.org/americanmasters and PBS apps.

Transcript Print

♪ We are gentle loving people ♪ ♪ And we are singing, singing for lives ♪ - I think the song that probably resonates the most as an anthem is Singing for Our Lives.

Which she wrote when Harvey Milk was assassinated.

- [Reporter] The major of San Francisco was shot and killed in his office in city hall this morning.

So was Harvey Milk a city supervisor.

As a member of the Board of Supervisors, Harvey Milk was a champion of homosexual rights.

- We're driving down to San Francisco.

It was like we had to be there, we just had to get there.

I'm driving and I suddenly hear this guttural noise.

It was a primal sound coming out of Holly.

And she starts humming and she hums it and she hums it.

And she hums it and then she starts singing.

And by the time we get to San Francisco, she's written two verses.

- And that night, we all sang.

We are gay and lesbian people and for many it was the first time they had said those words out loud about themselves.

And then the song flew out and allies began to sing it.

And the words changed to we are gay and straight together.

And the song found it's way into the Unitarian Hymnal.

(crowd cheering) And then we learned a lot more about sexuality.

And now I can't fit all of the words into the meter of the song.

But whatever door you walk through to your very essence, just know we see you, we see you.

♪ And we are all in this together ♪ ♪ And we are singing ♪ - It became the anthem of the LGBT movement.

- And it's a song that's been carried all over the world sung by hundreds of thousands of people.

♪ We are land of many colors ♪ ♪ And we are singing, singing for our lives ♪ - [Woman] My response to you singing that song was immediate and so intense.

And it would have overwhelmed me except it felt instead that a calming fire started in me.

♪ Singing for our lives ♪ ♪ We are gay and straight together ♪ ♪ We are gay and straight together ♪ ♪ And we are singing, singing for our lives ♪