Joe Glazer

US 'Labor's Troubador'


Joseph Glazer, singer and songwriter: born New York 19 June 1918; married 1942 Mildred Krauss (one son, two daughters); died Chevy Chase, Maryland 19 September 2006.

The songwriter Joe Glazer, a self-professed "agitator for all good causes", forged a new kind of Americana in the heat of political activism. He delivered satirical squibs to raise strikers' spirits, turned hymns into rallying cries, and harnessed melodic workhorses to create humorous parodies. Beside his best-known works, "The Mill Was Made of Marble", "Automation" and "Too Old to Work", he created a body of workaday nut-and-bolt songs. Their lyrical simplicity and easy-to-learn lines meant they could be speedily reassembled to suit the specific strike or occasion.

Although Glazer did not create "We Shall Overcome", he played a historic role in its onward transmission from Christian hymnal to civil rights anthem. Many voices had sung Charles Tindley's hymn "I'll Overcome Some Day" before it emerged in the version and arrangement credited to Zilphia Horton, Frank Hamilton, Guy Carawan and Pete Seeger. Glazer's contribution was to make the song's first commercial recording, for Eight New Songs for Labor (1950) - although a private home recording by Fred Hellerman predates it by a year or two.

Glazer became known as "Labor's Troubador". He snaffled this title for his 2002 memoirs, in which he told of struggles, solidarity and sharing political platforms with the likes of Harry Truman, Eleanor Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.

Born in New York in 1918, of Polish-Jewish stock, after graduating from Brooklyn College he plumped to become a songwriter. From 1944 he soaked up workers' songs and so-called "labor lore" while visiting meetings, strikes and rallies as an officer for the Textile Workers Union, and later the United Rubber Workers.

Glazer's most important contribution to left-wing song literature was Songs of Work and Protest (1960, with Edith Fowke), which published "No More Auction Block", "John Henry" and, naturally, "We Shall Not Be Moved". He also recorded prolifically, notably for his own Collector label, whose archive the Glazer family this year donated to the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage in Washington, DC.

Ken Hunt

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