On this day in 1915, Joe Hill was executed for a murder that he probably did not commit in Utah USA. Joe Hill was an itinerant worker,and member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). As a socialist he was an enemy of The State. (Remember in the USA to this day being branded a Liberal is tantamount to political suicide).
Hill had risen in the ranks of the IWW. He travelled organising workers in the name of the IWW, wrote poems, songs, satirical poems and making speeches. He used popular tunes for his songs a very subversive tactive used for years by political activists. His song “The Preacher and the Slave” used the tune of the well known hymn “In the Sweet Bye and Bye”. It also gave rise to the phrase “Pie in the sky” to reflect the belief that promisses of a better here after were just lies meant to make workers accept their poo lot in life. He also wrote “There is Power in the Union” which was echoed, years later by songs like “Part of the Union” by the Strawbs.
Hill’s importance to modern music lies in the belief that his was a political trial and execution, and the inspiration it gave musicians. (Hill was executed even though there was an appeal for clemmency by President Woodrow Wilson). A poem was written about him by Alfred Hayes (“I dreamt I saw Joe Hill Last Night”) it was turned into song called simply “Joe Hill” by Earl Robinson in 1936.
The song was sung by many singers prominent in the protest movement in the 50s and 60s such as Paul Robeson (himself treated disgracefully for his beliefs), Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, the Dubliners, and Dylan.