Darling show features all folk music
In September 1913, the Ludlow, Colo., coal miners went on strike. They wanted an eight-hour work day, safer working conditions and the right to choose their own boarding house, doctor and store.
By April, the strikers had been evicted to an ad hoc tent. On April 20, a company of state militiamen and a group of mining company "militia" opened fire on the miners, using two machine guns.
Soon, a tent burst into flames, then another and another. Miners and their families ran for the hills. By the next morning, all that was left was rubble and smoke. Two women and 11 children were discovered dead in a hole dug beneath one of the tents. Twenty-four died in all.
Years later, Woody Guthrie put the massacre to music.
"This is Charles Darling, on your music of the people program, Folk Festival, a documentary in words and music ..."
This Sunday, you'll hear that tag line, and the above story, beginning at 8 p.m. on WYSU-FM as part of a repeat airing of handpicked protest music -- hand-picked by retired history professor Charles Darling. Darling has been sharing his musical picks and historical insights for almost 36 years on YSU's public radio station.
How he began
Originally aired in 1996, "Union Songs" is just one of hundreds of shows Darling has announced. His love for folk music, which by definition is passed down orally and altered along the way, began "when I was a teen in Abington, Mass.," he said.
"I was interested in all kinds of music from classical to pop. We had a new FM tuner -- which was extremely unusual at the time -- and I tuned in to a live program by a fellow named Paul Clayton. 'This is interesting music,' I thought."
He moved to Youngstown and "forgot about it" until he left for the Army and picked up a Burl Ives recording. "That's all I listened to for years," Darling said of Ives. "Then, as a grad student at Penn State, I suddenly heard all kinds of music, including protest music -- Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Joe Glazer."
Penn State's radio station had a folk music show, and when Darling called up and complained, "I could do a better job than you do!" they retorted, "Why don't you?"
"So, I did," Darling said with a laugh. In 1958, he began "Folk Festival," and has retained the name ever since. Ultimately, Darling taught history at Springfield and then YSU, never giving up his love for folk music.
The most famous protest song Darling will air Sunday is Ernie Ford's "Sixteen Tons." Ford sings of what you get after mining that backbreaking amount: "Another year older, and deeper in debt." Says Darling, in his broadcast, "The employers literally owned the workers lock, stock and barrel. Even the pay was in the form of company script, good only at the company store."
What lives on
He picks out "Dreadful Memories" by Aunt Molly Jackson, the wife of a Depression-era Kentucky coal miner, as one of the more effective protest songs. "She sings that 37 babies died of starvation in her arms," Darling said. "There's no question the babies actually died, but if they died in her arms or not, I don't know. It's a very moving song. I used to play it in a course I taught. ... Not only couldn't I talk when it was done, I could see the students were very moved."
Most protester songs, Darling said, "die out. But some live on like 'Solidarity Forever.'" Recorded in 1941 by the Almanac singers, it is also part of Darling's show.
Another famous protest song that Darling will air is "Bread and Roses." "That came during a textile strike in 1912, out of Lawrence, Mass.," he said. Most of the strikers were women, and the slogan they used was "Bread and Roses."
"We want bread," Darling explained, "but we also want roses. Not just work 12 to 16 hours a day, six days a week, but food for the soul."
"Folk music was originally all oral, not written, going back to the 1400s or 1500s in England," he said. "It was music for the common people."
Some of the protest songs Darling will play are considered folk music, and some are not. But either way, his commentary and selections are engrossing.