Friday, August 26, 2011

Wasn't That A Time

Klbrisby's Channel

Isn't this a time!
A time to free the soul of man!
Isn't this a wonderful time!

Two founding members of The Weavers singing quartet, specifically Lee Hays and Pete Seeger, were interviewed by the Senate committee investigating potential Communists in this country.

In this scene, actual testimony is intercut with a performance of a song "Wasn't That a Time" which the investigators (ridiculously) thought demonstrated anti-American sentiments. Shawn P. Rohlf, Kat Fitzpatrick, Kent Brisby, and Steve Denyes (left-to-right) perform excerpt from a workshop staging of THE WEAVERS SONG, adapted by KL Brisby.

Mr. Brisby has authored more than a dozen produced plays and musicals, including the musical THE WEAVERS SONG, about blacklisted musical superstars of America in the 1940’s and 50’s.

The Blacklisting of The Weavers

"During the Red Scare, however, Pete Seeger and Lee Hays were denounced as Communist Party members by FBI informant Harvey Matusow (who later recanted) and [were] called up to testify to the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1955. Hays took the Fifth...[but] Seeger...refused to answer on First Amendment grounds...Because Seeger was...listed in the entertainment industry blacklist publication, Red Channels, all of the Weavers were placed under FBI surveillance and not allowed to perform on television or radio....

Decca Records terminated their recording contract and deleted their songs from its catalog in 1953, and their records were denied airplay..... Right-wing and anti-Communist groups protested at their performances and harassed promoters. [Thus, their] economic viability diminished rapidly and in 1952 it disbanded...In December 1955, [they] reunited to play a sold-out concert at Carnegie Hall. The concert was a huge success. A recording of the concert was issued by the independent Vanguard Records, and this led to their signing by that record label."

Pete Seeger...

The Committee asked me, "Did you ever sing a song called 'Wasn't That a Time' at such and such a place? I sang that song from time to time, and I still do. It was written by Lee Hays and Walter Lowenfels in 1948. It had a verse for Valley Forge, a verse for Gettysburg, a verse for World War II, and it had a verse for the McCarthy days, the Cold War. But it ended on an optimistic note. Lee Hays said, "...our faith cries out. Isn't this a time, a time to free the soul of man." When the Committee asked me about that song, I said, "Well, that's a good song, and I know it. I'll sing it for you". 

No. We don't want to hear it. We want to know did you sing it on such and such a place and date?" I said, "I would be glad to sing any song I ever sang. But as to where I've sung them, I think that's no business of this Committee. I've got a right to sing these songs. I've got a right to sing them anywhere." A year later I was cited for contempt of Congress because I had refused to answer the Committee's questions. I'm only sorry I hadn't done what Robeson did. He stood up and shouted at them: "This whole hearing is a disgrace. You are the un-Americans."

Wasn't That A Time - Lyrics

Our fathers bled at Valley Forge.
The snow was red with blood,
Their faith was warm at Valley Forge,
Their faith was brotherhood.

Wasn't that a time, wasn't that a time,
A time to try the soul of man,
Wasn't that a terrible time?

Brave men who fought at Gettysburg
Now lie in soldier's graves,
But there they stemmed the rebel [slavery] tide,
And there the faith was saved.


The madmen [fascists] came with chains and war
To prison us in hate.
And many a good man fought and died
To save the stricken faith.


And now again the madmen come,
And shall our vic'try fail?
There is no vic'try in a land
Where free men go to jail.

Isn't this a time!
Isn't this a time!
A time to try the soul of man,
Isn't this a terrible time?

Our faith cries out... They Shall Not Pass!
We cry... No Pasaran!
We pledge our lives
Our honor all to free this prison land

Isn't this a time!
Isn't this a time!
A time to free the soul of man!
Isn't this a wonderful time!

[Two additional verses written by Lee Hays and sung at the 1980 Weavers reunion:]

How many times we've gone to kill
In freedom's holy name.
And children died to save the pride
Of rulers without shame.

Informers took their Judas pay
To tell their sorry tale
And gangs in Congress had their way
And free souls went to jail

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