Burl Ives: “Solidarity Forever” by Bucky Halker

Bucky Halker is a songwriter, performer, labor historian, Senior Program Officer of the Illinois Humanities Council, and a Producer of the Folksongs of Illinois CD series that the University of Illinois Press is distributing for the IHC. Folksongs of Illinois, Volume 3 will be released in November 2007.


From the beginning of the song selection process for the Folksongs of Illinois CDs, I was determined to include a Burl Ives song. After all, he’d been a key figure in popularizing folk music, as well as a screen and record star. I also wanted people to know that Ives was an Illinois native. The problem was finding the right Ives song. I was hoping for something more revealing than, say, “Foggy, Foggy Dew” or similar recordings.

I recalled a story a folk singer friend told me in the early 1970s about Lee Hays, a member of the famous group the Weavers. Hays kept a picture from the late 1930s that included several folk singers, including Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie. Curiously, one part of the picture had clearly been torn off. Burl Ives was that part. Hays recalled how Ives had been a friend, but had gone on to name names before the infamous House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s. Ives went on to stardom, while others in the picture were blacklisted. (This story was verified by Pete Seeger.)

Without wanting to vilify Ives, I decided to find a recording from his left-leaning years. I hit pay dirt without much effort. Folklorists Dave Samuelson and Ron Cohen had recently compiled a wonderful, ten-CD set on political music. The collection included several obscure recordings, including a version of the labor classic “Solidarity Forever.” The 1944 recording by the Union Boys featured Ives and Seeger on vocals. Ralph Chaplin, the song’s author, also made a rare vocal appearance.

What luck! “Solidarity Forever” was written in Lombard, Illinois, in 1915 by Chaplin, a writer and organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World, a radical labor organization founded in Chicago in 1905. The song became a famous American labor song and remains a fixture of labor rallies to this day. Indeed, I have performed it many times myself at labor events.

Perfect. I had Illinoisans Ives and Chaplin together, with Pete Seeger thrown in for good measure. Not only that, but I didn’t have to find a recording of “Solidarity Forever” somewhere else, which I would have had to do otherwise.

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