Sing a Song for Joe Hill

Some say Joe Hill died on this day. In 1915. He was executed by a firing squad in the state of Utah. One night two men had been murdered in what seemed like a tale of revenge, and Joe Hill got the blame. He didn’t have no reason for killing those two men, but then again he didn’t have no alibi for why he had suffered a gunshot wound that same night.

The two men, they said, had been murdered by a man who had got himself shot too. Joe Hill hadn’t been a friend of the state of Utah – he was a Wobblie – a member of the Industrial Workers of the World. The I.W.W. still exists today, and in Hill’s time they were leading the charge for workers’ rights (for little things like the weekend and an eight hour work day). Hill served as the I.W.W.’s songsmith – he took old gospel standards and turned them into worker anthems.

Joe Hill

Joe Hill

Unfortunately, we don’t have a time machine to go back and find out the truth about Joe Hill. But many folks believed then, and many folks still believe now, that the trial of Joe Hill was a farce. That he wasn’t guilty of no murders, but he was being blamed because he organized workers, and that meant less money for the Big Wigs, Fat Cats, and those otherwise involved with getting rich off the poor. They saw their chance to get rid of Hill and they took it.

And why didn’t Hill have an alibi? Well some would tell you that Joe Hill was in the arms of a married woman, and revealing the affair would have ruined her life. So he gave his life to save her.

But some say Joe Hill didn’t die that day.

And some sang songs about him. Here’s a few of ’em.

Pete Seeger – “Joe Hill” (Alfred Hayes poem put to words by Earl Robinson)

Bob Dylan – “I Dreamed I saw St. Augustine”

The Nightwatchman – “Union Song” (Morello wears an I.W.W. hat)

Johnny Cash – Long Black Veil (not really about Hill but sure could be)

Billy Bragg – “I dreamed I saw Phil Ochs last night” (a later day Joe Hill)

That’s the end of this here playlist, but if you have more songs about or inspired by the story of Joe Hill, by all means add ’em to the comments!

I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night
Alive as you and me.
Says I, ‘But Joe, you’re ten years dead.’
‘I never died,’ says he.

‘Joe Hill ain’t dead,’he says to me.
‘Joe Hill ain’t never died,
Where workingmen are out on strike
Joe Hill is at their side!’
– Alfred Hayes, 1925
 

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4 Comments on “Sing a Song for Joe Hill”

  1. Mike Kay Says:

    We’ve created a workers’ rally song “Down On The Line” in support of the hardworking middle class brothers & sisters nationwide. You can listen & download it free here:

    http://www.mikekonopka.com/downontheline.htm

    Fight on! The Joe Hill Heartlanders

  2. Mike Kay Says:

    Check out the latest protest song from The Joe Hill Heartlanders
    urging all middle class workers to “Get Even!”

    You can listen, view and download “Get Even!” free at:

    http://www.mikekonopka.com/geteven.htm

    Stay strong and “Get Even!”

    The Joe Hill Heartlanders


  3. Joe Hill was shot by a rival, and then killed by the corrupt:

    “Old Letter Sheds New Light on Joe Hill Murder Case”

    http://nyti.ms/qdYO6K


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