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Archives on the Air 291: Songs of the People – Fritz Lang papers

World War II brought with it a rejuvenated interest in folk singing. Soldiers, far from home, often found singing to be one of the few sources of entertainment. After the war, some enterprising musicians decided to capture as many ballads and folksongs as possible in a monthly newsletter called People’s Songs.

The newsletters became a sort of clearinghouse for traditional songs. Pete Seeger, the folk singer and social activist, was the national director of People’s Songs. Seeger, Woody Guthrie and other folk singers started traveling around performing concerts known as Hootenannies.

Some of the songs performed were traditional ballads. Many were work songs or union songs. Folk artists wrote new songs capturing current events and decrying racism and inequality. Songs were addressed to everyone from politicians to landlords and factory owners.

You can see a collection of the People’s Songs newsletters in the Fritz Lang papers at UW’s American Heritage Center.