“Dear Mr. President” by The Almanac Singers - album review

features in: Album Chart of 1942Album Chart of the Decade: 1940s

TJR says

Within 2 months of the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor in late 1941, the Almanac Singers went into the studio to record a set of songs supporting the American entry into World War 2. Around about the same time they played at Madison Square Garden for a CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations) rally, finding common cause with issues pertaining to the unions and to the imminent war effort. In February, they performed for millions on the CBS radio show, “This Is War”. Despite striking the popular chord, the group could not free themselves from the continued hostility from the press which still reverberated from their debut album “John Doe” from several months earlier. Shortly after their performance on “This Is War”, articles continued to focus on the group’s earlier views, and, continued to raise allegations of Communist affiliations. The group’s commercial aspirations never stood a chance and “Dear Mr. President” would prove to be their fifth and final album. But what a way to go! This was a classic in every way. It was highly entertaining and lyrically potent with it. Not only did the album call for unity and positivity in the fight against Hitler, it sought to further human rights issues on the domestic front.

Dear Mr. President”, the title track, laid down the manifesto to a tee. Consider the Jim Crow Laws for one. “Jump Jim Crow” is a song and dance from 1828 that was done in blackface by white comedian Thomas Dartmouth (T.D.) “Daddy” Rice. The song was a key initial step in a tradition of popular music in the United States that was based on the mockery of African-Americans. Within a couple of decades, the mockery genre exploded in popularity with the rise of the minstrel show. The tune became very well-known not only in the United States but internationally; in 1841 the US ambassador to Central America, John Lloyd Stephens, wrote that upon his arrival in Mérida, Mexico, the local brass band played “Jump Jim Crow” under the mistaken impression that it was the US national anthem. As a result of Rice’s fame, Jim Crow had become a pejorative meaning African American by 1838 and from this the laws of racial segregation became known as Jim Crow laws.

In “Dear Mr. President” Seeger raps for his cause: “I’m fightin’ because I want a better America, and better laws, And better homes, and jobs, and schools, And no more Jim Crow, and no more rules like “You can’t ride on this train ’cause you’re a Negro,” “You can’t live here ’cause you’re a Jew,” “You can’t work here ’cause you’re a union man.” So, Mr. President, We got this one big job to do, that’s lick Mr. Hitler and when we’re through, Let no one else ever take his place, to trample down the human race. So what I want is you to give me a gun, so we can hurry up and get the job done.”

Pete Seeger received his draft notice in June 1942, and Woody Guthrie shipped off with the Merchant Marines about a year later. Commies in the U.S. Army? Crikey, what WILL the FBI say?

The Jukebox Rebel

A [02:47] 9.1.png The Almanac Singers - Dear Mr. President (Pete Seeger) Folk
B [02:19] 8.9.png The Almanac Singers - Belt Line Girl (Agnes Cunningham) Folk
C [02:49] 8.5.png The Almanac Singers - Round And Round Hitler’s Grave (Woody Guthrie, Millard Lampell, Pete Seeger) Country
D [02:33] 9.4.png The Almanac Singers - Side By Side (Arthur Stern) Folk
E [02:24] 7.8.png The Almanac Singers - Deliver The Goods (Pete Seeger, Bess Lomax Hawes) Folk
F [03:09] 9.0.png The Almanac Singers - Reuben James (Woody Guthrie, Millard Lampell, Pete Seeger) Folk

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