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S33 Ep4

Holly Near: Singing for Our Lives

Premiere: 3/1/2019 | 00:01:49 |

An outspoken political activist and singer-songwriter, Holly Near’s music and life story illustrate how song can have the power to send a clarion call and influence the course of social justice – from the lesbian and women’s movements to anti-war efforts and the fight to give South American women a voice.

About the Episode

An outspoken political activist and singer-songwriter, Holly Near’s music and life story illustrate how song can have the power to send a clarion call and influence the course of social justice – from the lesbian and women’s movements to anti-war efforts and the fight to give South American women a voice. Holly Near: Singing for Our Lives explores how the activist-artist provided an inspiring soundtrack to nearly a half-century of global and local struggles for equality and change. 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).

In addition to new interviews with Near, the film features insights from the performer’s friends, family and collaborators in music and the social justice movement, including Jane Fonda, Gloria Steinem, the late Ronnie Gilbert of The Weavers, her cousin, actor Kevin Bacon, the late author, activist and politician Tom Hayden, pianist and composer Jeff Langley, her sister Timothy Near, singer-songwriter and Women on Wheels tourmate Margie Adam, her Redwood Records partner, activist and author Torie Osborn, musician and founder of the Berkeley Women’s Music Collective Nancy Vogl and more.

Holly Near: Singing for Our Lives tells the tale of a talented performer whose virtuoso vocals and songwriting inspired generations of people working to “bend the arc of justice forward.” From Free the Army tour performances with Jane Fonda to million-person global peace rallies, from women-only concerts and sold-out shows with Ronnie Gilbert to midnight marches against campus sexual assault or police brutality, Near’s on-stage charisma and songwriting have captured, fueled and melded together social change movements, spreading new feminism, gender identity, lesbian politics and more since the 1960s. Best known for her coming-out anthem “Imagine My Surprise” and the LGBT movement anthem “Singing for Our Lives,” written after Harvey Milk’s assassination, Near was also at the forefront of DIY music recording and distribution, founding Redwood Records in her home in 1976 to support the release of her first album, “Hang in There.” One of the pioneering independent record companies run by women, Redwood Records was active for 18 years and sold over 1.5 million records by lesbian and politically-conscious artists from around the world. Early in her career, Near was an actress with roles in “The Partridge Family,” “All in the Family,” “Hair” on Broadway and more.


Holly Near: Singing for Our Lives is a production of Jim Brown Productions in association with American Masters Pictures. Jim Brown is director and producer. Donna Korones is executive producer and producer. Heather A. Smith is producer. Michael Kantor is American Masters series executive producer.

About American Masters
Now in its 37th season on PBS, American Masters illuminates the lives and creative journeys of those who have left an indelible impression on our cultural landscape—through compelling, unvarnished stories. Setting the standard for documentary film profiles, the series has earned widespread critical acclaim: 28 Emmy Awards—including 10 for Outstanding Non-Fiction Series and five for Outstanding Non-Fiction Special—two News & Documentary Emmys, 14 Peabodys, three Grammys, two Producers Guild Awards, an Oscar, and many other honors. To further explore the lives and works of more than 250 masters past and present, the American Masters website offers full episodes, film outtakes, filmmaker interviews, the podcast American Masters: Creative Spark, educational resources, digital original series and more. The series is a production of The WNET Group.

American Masters is available for streaming concurrent with broadcast on all station-branded PBS platforms, including and the PBS App, available on iOS, Android, Roku streaming devices, Apple TV, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, Samsung Smart TV, Chromecast and VIZIO. PBS station members can view many series, documentaries and specials via PBS Passport. For more information about PBS Passport, visit the PBS Passport FAQ website.

About The WNET Group
The WNET Group creates inspiring media content and meaningful experiences for diverse audiences nationwide. It is the community-supported home of New York’s THIRTEEN – America’s flagship PBS station – WLIW21, THIRTEEN PBSKids, WLIW World and Create; NJ PBS, New Jersey’s statewide public television network; Long Island’s only NPR station WLIW-FM; ALL ARTS, the arts and culture media provider; newsroom NJ Spotlight News; and FAST channel PBS Nature. Through these channels and streaming platforms, The WNET Group brings arts, culture, education, news, documentary, entertainment and DIY programming to more than five million viewers each month. The WNET Group’s award-winning productions include signature PBS series Nature, Great Performances, American Masters and Amanpour and Company and trusted local news programs MetroFocus and NJ Spotlight News with Briana Vannozzi. Inspiring curiosity and nurturing dreams, The WNET Group’s award-winning Kids’ Media and Education team produces the PBS KIDS series Cyberchase, interactive Mission US history games, and resources for families, teachers and caregivers. A leading nonprofit public media producer for more than 60 years, The WNET Group presents and distributes content that fosters lifelong learning, including multiplatform initiatives addressing poverty, jobs, economic opportunity, social justice, understanding and the environment. Through Passport, station members can stream new and archival programming anytime, anywhere. The WNET Group represents the best in public media. Join us.


Additional funding for Holly Near: Singing for Our Lives is provided in part by Dale Leibowitz, Karen Dixon & Nan Schaffer, Jackie deMeglio, Jody and John Arnhold, Gregory Maquire, JT Mason and Gretchen Hausman, and Mary Ford.

Support for American Masters is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, AARP, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, Rosalind P. Walter Foundation, Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Judith and Burton Resnick, Seton J. Melvin, The Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation, The Ambrose Monell Foundation, Lillian Goldman Programming Endowment, Vital Projects Fund, The Philip and Janice Levin Foundation, Ellen and James S. Marcus, The André and Elizabeth Kertész Foundation, Koo and Patricia Yuen, Thea Petschek Iervolino Foundation, The Marc Haas Foundation and public television viewers.


(calm piano music) ♪♪ We are gentle angry people ♪ ♪♪ And we are singing, singing for our lives ♪ - I believe that through the gentleness of song, one can, under that gentleness say, I invite you to your best self, but if you're not ready to go there, we're going to move on towards the best of humanity, whether you come with us or not.

- She lets you experience the need to fight and defend, and persevere, but in a way that unlocks your heart.

♪♪ We are a land of many colors ♪ ♪♪ And we are singing, singing for our lives ♪ - Holly was my first experience of music as a communal experience, a movement experience.

I mean, I was just totally knocked out.

- She has a gift for bringing dramatical, edgy ideas in a very all-American package to an audience that changes them and inspires them as nobody else ever has.

♪♪ Singing for our lives ♪ - She's had a constant ripple effect for 40 or 50 years.

Holly is like a, an oar in the water.

It's hard to know where you'd be without the oar.

(gentle humming)


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