Friday, 15 May 2009

The Theater Is in the Street: Politics and Public Performance in Sixties America

by Bradford D. Martin

Increasingly, the Freedom Singers came to share venues with performers in the folk revival, not only at the March on Washington but also at the 1963 Newport Folk Festival and the 1964 Mississippi Caravan of Music. Performers at the March on Washington included Seeger, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Odetta, and Peter, Paul and Mary. At the Newport festival, the Freedom Singers' influence permeated the occasion, as nearly every white folk performer included at least one a cappella selection and a freedom song in his or her repertoire. Seeger viewed the impressive attendance of forty thousand as evidence of a "revived" festival--indeed, though it had begun in 1959, it had not been held the previous two years--crediting the confluence of civil rights and folk music. During the Mississippi Caravan of Music it became clear that the benefits of folk music's alliance with the Freedom Singers worked both ways. Caravan musicians including Seeger, Guy Carawan, Phil Ochs, and Judy Collins encouraged voter registration by staying in Mississippi "for a week or two or sometimes more" and singing at meetings and freedom schools. True to both the oral tradition of folksinging and SNCC's agenda of developing indigenous leadership, the Caravan sessions at the freedom schools sparked young Mississippians to create their own freedom songs.

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