Working Class Hero: Mat Callahan on High Plains Morning

Sep 3, 2019

Yvonne Moore & Mat Callahan released Working Class Heroes, an album and book, celebrating historical American labor folk songs.

After coming across an intriguing folk compilation entitled Working-Class Heroes: A History of Struggle and Song, I reached out to the artists who released this project: Mat Callahan & Yvonne Moore. I was thrilled when Mat offered some time to chat with High Plains Morning and share some insights from the album, the accompanying book (which is out this month), and the deep history of these labor tunes. And what better day to do it than LABOR DAY! Thanks so much to Mat for his time and passion for this important music and American history of the working class.

Click below for our two-part interview about the project and its relevance in 2019.

ABOUT THE ARTISTS: Mat Callahan is a musician and author originally from San Francisco. Recent projects include the republication of Songs of Freedom by Irish revolutionary James Connolly, the recording and publication of Working-Class Heroes, and the launch of the multimedia project Songs of Slavery and Emancipation. He is the author of five books including, in 2017, The Explosion of Deferred Dreams (PM Press) and A Critical Guide to Intellectual Property (Zed Books). Callahan can be reached at www.matcallahan.com. ~  Yvonne Moore is a singer and bandleader originally from Schaffhausen, Switzerland. In addition to recording numerous albums of her own music, Moore is cofounder and treasurer of the Art in History and Politics Association, whose purpose is to discover, publish, and popularize music, graphic art, and texts created by participants in conflicts such as the struggle to abolish slavery. Her exploration of the songs of Sarah Ogan Gunning led to the making of Working-Class Heroes. Find out more at www.matandyvonne.com.

ABOUT THE ALBUM: The most essential music is often conceived by real human beings: ordinary, anonymous, and poor—people who stood up and joined together to fight injustice and institutional oppression. This is the story of Working-Class Heroes: A History of Struggle and Song, a collection of American working class, pre-World War II folk songs revived by Mat Callahan & Yvonne Moore. Inspired by the legendary American songbook Hard Hitting Songs for Hard-Hit People, Callahan and Moore compiled this set of songs with renewed focus on the individuals who wrote them, and the causes they held dear. The duo present 20 songs here, written both by folk canon heavyweights (Woody Guthrie) and lesser-known but equally gifted songwriters (Sarah Ogan Gunning, Ella May Wiggins). Recorded in a mostly stripped-down style, the pair perform this music as it was intended to be–the way you would hear it on a picket line or at a hootenanny. Both beautiful and emotionally arresting, the album is a collection of stories as much as songs—stories of the women and men who (sometimes literally) gave their lives to emancipate the working class. Working-Class Heroes is an immersive experience, brimming with hard-truth insights still resonant today. For more about the album, click here. To buy it, click here.

ABOUT THE BOOK: Working-Class Heroes is an organic melding of history, music, and politics that demonstrates with colorful evidence that workers everywhere will struggle to improve their conditions of life. And among them will be workers who share an insight: in order to better our lot, we must act collectively to change the world. This profusely illustrated treasury of song sheets, lyrics, photographs, histories, and biographical sketches explores the notion that our best hope lies in the capacity of ordinary working people to emancipate ourselves and all of humanity. Featuring more than a dozen songwriters, from Joe Hill to Aunt Molly Jackson, Working-Class Heroes delivers a lyrical deathblow to the myth that so-called political songs of the 20th century were being written by intellectuals in New York. The songs collected here have a striking relevance to current affairs and invite us to explore the historical conditions that inspired their creation: systemic crisis, advancing fascism, and the threat of world war. These working-class songwriters showed courage and heroism that is immortal, and such heroes and their work should be celebrated still today. The heroes featured in this collection include Sarah Ogan Gunning, Ralph Chaplin, Woody Guthrie, Ella May Wiggins, Joe Hill, Paul Robeson, John Handcox, Aunt Molly Jackson, Jim Garland, Alfred Hayes, and Joseph Brandon. To order the book, click here.