Music Notes November 2016

Oscar Brand 1920-2016

Winnipeg-born folk musician and radio/TV host Oscar Brand died in Long Island, NY on Sept. 30th. He recorded more than 100 albums, and was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2006. In Canada, he’s remembered as host of the 1960s TV show “Let’s Sing Out”, and as composer of the so-called alternate national anthem “This Land of Ours” (a.k.a. “Something to Sing About”). Beyond Canada, he’s remembered as host of “Folksong Festival”, a weekly radio show on New York’s WNYC that ran uninterrupted from 1945 until a week before his death. Oscar Brand was a friend and associate of Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and other members of the Weavers. Their appearances on “Folksong Festival”, as well as those of artists like Leadbelly and Bob Dylan, exerted a profound influence on several generations of musicians and listeners. In the early 50’s, Brand was targeted by the House Un-American Activities Committee for alleged communist connections, but he was never blacklisted, and he continued to feature blacklisted performers on his show. He did, however, also allow folksinger Burl Ives, who had “named names”, to appear, arguing that he didn’t think anyone should be blacklisted. For old “Folksong Festival” audio clips of Guthrie, The Weavers, and Bob Dylan, check out the Oscar Brand tributes at WNYC.

Neil Young’s “Indian Givers”

Neil Young’s new song and video, “Indian Givers”, is a straightforward condemnation of the Dakota Access Pipeline, the oil mega-project that is being resisted by the Standing Rock Sioux Association and allies from across the continent. The veteran rock star has long been a supporter of Indigenous land claims and a fighter against oil mega-projects, like the Tar Sands and Keystone XL. In the chorus Young declares: “There’s a battle raging on the sacred land / Our brothers and sisters have to take a stand / Against us now for what we all been doing / On the sacred land there’s a battle brewing”. Elsewhere he sings: “Now it’s been about 500 years / We keep taking what we gave away / Just like what we call Indian givers”. The term “Indian giver” is a taunt against someone who wants a gift back. Young is referring to treaties that the U.S. government signed with Indigenous peoples. He reverses an old racist slur against native peoples that depicts them as deceitful and ungenerous. It is settler people (“us“) who deserve the epithet. While his point is clear, it must be said that nothing was “given away” by the U.S. government. This was all originally Indigenous land.


Sing Out! Radio Magazine

Readers who listen to podcasts should check out Sing Out! Radio Magazine, a weekly show hosted by musician-journalist Tom Druckenmiller. It’s part of Sing Out!, the quarterly journal founded in 1950 by Pete Seeger and activist Irwin Sibler. The hour-long show is aired live on various stations in the USA, but Canadians can listen to the podcast. Recent themes include: “The National Museum of African-American History and Culture” (featuring music by artists represented in the museum that recently opened in Washington, DC); “Folk City” (a two-part series on the “folk revival” in New York in the early sixties); “Pioneering Women” (a two-part series on female folk musicians, from Maybelle Carter to Odetta); and “Solidarity Forever” (a Labour Day broadcast featuring artists from the Almanac Singers to David Rovics). In its mission statement Sing Out! declares that it seeks to “preserve and support the cultural diversity and heritage of all traditional and contemporary folk musics”. Its definition of folk music is broad, including blues, bluegrass, contemporary singer-songwriters, and various “roots music” genres. Sing Out! Radio Magazine is available through the usual podcast services. For more info:


Ani DiFranco’s new single “Play God”

Folk-rock singer-songwriter Ani DiFranco has released a new single and video that has been called “a battle cry for reproductive freedom”. “Play God” was recorded in New Orleans with the help of local maestro Ivan Neville. The video, edited by Shervin Laïnez, features clips of DiFranco on tour plus clips of women’s rights protests around the USA. ” I pay my taxes like any man,” she sings. “I feel that I’ve earned my right to choose. You don’t get to play God, man. I do.” DiFranco is a long-time advocate for women’s rights. Introducing the song on her website she writes: “As a society, it is time to acknowledge that unless a woman is in control of her own reproduction, she is not free, and it is the responsibility of our American government to protect and ensure the freedom of all American citizens. It is time we get serious about addressing and achieving this great unfinished business of civil rights in America. The true emancipation and equality of women is dependent on it.” For more info:


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