Archive for the 'Sing for Freedom' Category

Remembering Guy Carawan, civil rights activist and folk singer

Thursday, May 7th, 2015 by Lisa Harrison
Guy and Candie Carawan, authors of Sing for Freedom. (Courtesy Patheos)

Civil rights activist and folk singer Guy Carawan died on May 3 after a long illness. Guy and his wife Candie co-authored Sing For Freedom: The Story of the Civil Rights Movement Through Its Songs, published by NewSouth Books in 2007.

Carawan was perhaps best known for introducing the song “We Shall Overcome” to the civil rights movement. In a tribute to the musician, National Public Radio featured excerpts from an archived story on the song. Carawan recalled learning the piece from a musician who performed it with guitar accompaniment. But when Carawan performed it with guitar for student activists, they had another idea:

“And then at a certain point, those young singers who knew a lot of a cappella styles – they said, lay that guitar down, boy. We can do the song better [laughter]. And they put that sort of triplet to it and sang it a cappella with all those harmonies. It had a way of rendering it – a style that some very powerful young singers got behind spread.”

ABC News spoke with Candie Carawan, who told them, “Guy very peacefully slipped away. When you know somebody is on their way, it was really the best way to go, and I was very grateful that was how it was.”

Guy Carawan’s legacy will continue through the Highlander Research and Education Center with which he was closely associated, and the song that continues to be performed 55 years after he taught it to young activists.

Sing For Freedom is available from NewSouth Books or your favorite bookstore.

Guy and Candie Carawan honored for lifetime of social justice cultural education

Monday, April 27th, 2015 by Lisa Harrison

Sing for Freedom by Guy and Candie Carawan

Guy and Candie Carwan, authors of Sing For Freedom: The Story of the Civil Rights Movement Through Its Songs, published by NewSouth Books, were honored recently by the East Tennessee Historical Society, the Tennessee Archive of Moving Image and Sound, McClung Historical Collection, and the Knox County Public Library with a celebration of their work for social justice. The program included a photography exhibit, showing of rare video footage from the civil rights era, and a musical performance.

The Carawans have been associated with the Highlander Research and Education Center, a leading social justice organization, since the 1950s, organizing cultural workshops and serving as consultants to the school. According to the Knoxville News Sentinel, “the Carawans were almost the face of the center for many people.” The couple were popular folk musicians who adapted traditional songs with new lyrics about the civil rights struggle. These songs were collected into two collections, We Shall Overcome (1963) and Freedom is a Constant Struggle (1968), reprinted in a single edition by NewSouth Books in 2007.

The News Sentinel interviewed Candie Carawan in connection with the program showcasing their career.

The newspaper quoted Carwan, “We never sat down and plotted out, ‘Well, we’ll be working in the South for 35 years and doing all this documentary work. We just kind of took it year by year and followed our interests and in some ways followed the work that Highlander (Center) was doing. It just kind of added up to an interesting body of work and life of experiences.’

“‘You’ll get to this point, too, where you just cannot believe that much time has gone by and you’ve lived through these incredible periods of history. I think about the way the Civil Rights movement has been commemorated so much lately and it just doesn’t seem like 50 years ago, more than 50 years ago. Again, it’s just to have been so lucky. Both of us grew up in Southern California. How amazing is it that our paths crossed at Highlander and we were able to stay in the South and relate to so much incredible history that was going on?'”

Sing For Freedom is available from NewSouth Books or your favorite bookstore.

Huffington Post’s Peter Dreier pays homage to Guy Carawan

Monday, October 18th, 2010 by Suzanne La Rosa

In a nicely observed piece about the life and work of Guy Carawan, Peter Dreier of The Huffington Post shares that Carawan will be honored at a “Singing for Justice” celebration on October 23 at the home of Jan Goodman and Jerry Manpearl in Santa Monica, California; tickets may be purchased for $35.

Carawan is the legendary singer, folklorist, and activist whose arrangement of “We Shall Overcome” became the anthem of the Civil Rights Movement. Working from the Highlander Research and Education Center in Tennessee, a training center for grassroots activists where he was music director for many years, Carawan became an evangelist for the music that was his life.

Carawan understood its power to affect hearts and to affect change and the role it played in social struggle. At sit-ins and other demonstrations, he sang the freedom songs and encouraged others to sing as well, says Dreier, and “believing that singing and music could be a unifying force, [Carawan] also taught the SNCC activists the Southern gospel and religious songs, changing a word here and there to adapt it to their cause.”

Documenting that unique connection between music and the Movement, Guy and Candie collected these songs and had them published in book form. Originally two volumes, We Shall Overcome and Freedom Is a Constant Struggle were reissued as Sing For Freedom: The Story of the Civil Rights Movement Through Its Songs by NewSouth Books in 2007, on the 75th anniversary of the Highlander Center. The book is a collection of freedom songs and many important photographic images, which along with copious notes makes possible an enhanced understanding of the Movement through its music.

As the Carawans state in their preface to the NewSouth edition of Sing For Freedom:

There is much history in this book, along with the songs. The stories and photographs remind us of a time when great changes took place in this country. We know from our work at Highlander and from our understanding of history that change happens when people organize and insist on the changes. In the early 1960s, the black South organized. Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon has reflected on the role that singing played in maintaining a nonviolent movement: The singing of words of hope and defiance helped people maintain control and dignity in the face of great harrassment and danger.

Surely we still need these lessons.

Sing For Freedom is available from NewSouth Books,, or your favorite retail or online bookseller.