Labor's Troubadour Passes On

By Kelly Sparks

Joe Glazer, American labor's troubadour who performed, composed and collected the songs of work and protest around the globe for 60 years, died of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma Sept. 19 at his home in Chevy Chase, Md. He was 88. The American labor movement has lost a great friend.

During the '80s I persuaded Joe to emcee two concerts made up of those whom I considered to be the best at telling the story of the workers' struggle for dignity and economic justice.

The concerts were held at the University of Wisconsin Parkside field house in Kenosha County, Wis. Joe was at his best, greeting, introducing and singing for old friends Pete Seeger, Larry Penn and Arlo Guthrie as well as Peggy Lipschutz and Becky Armstrong from Chicago with their "songs you can see" performance, where Peggy did large color chalk drawings of the songs of labor that Becky sang and played on the guitar. "This is wonderful, wonderful," Joe said to me as he watched the audience who was obviously enthralled by the duo. He loved the flaming red hair of Bobby McGee, who sang her song "59 Cents for Each Man's Dollar," and Wisconsin's AFL political director Darryl Holter, who sang for Joe and gave him a brick from the notorious Italian Hall in Calumet, Mich., where, in 1914, children died by being trampled to death when company goons locked the doors to the hall and yelled "fire." "What a terrible way to treat humanity and at their Christmas party no less," said Joe.

Kim and Reggie Harris's "wonderful" performance of the Underground Railroad music received heaping praise from labor's troubadour; he told them he would like to take them to Europe to perform for our sisters and brothers there. In most of Europe, he said, "when a worker is unemployed or on strike they are not left in hopeless poverty for they have national healthcare systems."

It was solidarity forever with workers and their unions with Glazer; he would get emotional when he told of Ralph Chaplin writing labor's anthem, "Solidarity Forever." "He wanted to bring out the fervor of the workers, he wanted it to be militant -- you know, he wrote the song just after returning from the Paint and Cabin Creek Strike zones in West Virginia where he fought the Baldwin felt mine guards, so he was full of militancy."

For Joe it was all about education and he used his winning personality, great smile and strong, deep and unbelievable baritone voice to protest for a better America and a better world.

His two best-known songs have become standards on picket lines: "The Mill was Made of Marble" and "Too Old to Work and Too Young to Die," which was inspired from a speech by UAW President Walter Reuther.

I asked Joe, who owned Collector Records, to make an album of the concert with Seeger. "Of course I will," he said. "I never heard Seeger do 'Solidarity' better and everyone should hear Larry Penn's 'The Spike.'"

We asked but never got timely permission from Harold Leventhal, Pete's agent, but made the album anyway. "It's too important not to," he said, and I agreed.

Glazer traveled the world and sang his labor songs at the behest of President Kennedy after he was appointed information officer for the US Information Agency. He also worked for and with many unions on picket lines and protest rallies.

He was married to Mildred -- his beloved Millie -- who lives in Chevy Chase, Md. Today she is bereaved but looking forward to the memorial tribute to Joe, which will soon take place in the nation's capital.

Kelly Sparks is a retired Wisconsin United Auto Workers union political representative who now resides in Ronceverte, W.V.

From The Progressive Populist, November 1, 2006

Home Page

Subscribe to The Progressive Populist

Copyright © 2006 The Progressive Populist