We Shall Overcome: Guy Carawan, folk artist behind civil rights anthem, dies aged 87

He popularised the hymn as a protest song in the 1960s

Matilda Battersby
Friday 08 May 2015 12:06
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The folk singer behind civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome” has died in his Tennessee home at the age of 87.

Guy Carawan’s rendition of the hymn was taken up as the anthem to the US fight for racial equality in the 1960s.

The white singer first performed it to a group of black students in Raleigh in North Carolina in 1960.

It was subsequently sung at demonstrations and rallies throughout the ‘60s including at the Martin Luther King Jr-led march from Selma to Montgomery (pictured).

In a 1999 interview with NPR Carawan revealed he learned “We Shall Overcome” from friend in California.

"He taught me this song, and he also had put some chords to it. He sang the guitar with it. So he had a guitar with harmony like, (singing) 'we shall overcome someday. Oh, deep in my heart I do believe, yes, that we shall overcome someday'," he said, reciting the lyrics.

His version of the song was forged with the help of fellow folk artist Pete Seeger.

It has since been performed at countless protests around the world, including by Tiananmen Square protesters and at the dismantled Berlin Wall.

The son of Southern parents, Carawan was born in 1927 in Santa Monica, California.

He moved to New York City and became active in the folk revival movement in the 1950s.

He and his second wife, Candie, taught music for decades at the Highlander Research and Education Center, a social justice leadership school, in New Market, Tennessee.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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