Bay Area Rockin’ Solidarity Labor Solidarity Chorus

By Edith Monk Hallberg
Friday December 21, 2007

If the axiom apllies that one must write about what one knows about, then for the Bay Area Rockin’ Solidarity Labor Heritage Chorus it must be “Sing out about what you’ve LEARNED.” 

This 60 member Chorus, formed through the Labor Studies Departments at Laney College and City College Of San Francisco learns about and sings out about Labor Culture at peace rallies, picket lines and other Labor functions, and is one of 6 Labor Chorus from Seattle to Washington DC.  

Though membership in the Chorus changes with the semesters, there’s a constant core of regulars who couldn’t do without the leadership of our Instructor, Pat Wynne. I joined the Chorus in August 2001, just before 9/11.  

I had gone to the Bolshevik Cafe, a May Day celebration at which Bay Area Lefties throws a humorous cabaret making light of all things political. The Chorus sang and passed out leaflets inviting people to enroll in the class and to join the Chorus.  

I determined that if I still had the leafletby the time I needed to enroll, that I woud join, and I did. I certainly found out that this wasn’t what I remembered from High School, almost 40 years ago. I no longer was a Soprano, but an Alto, and we Altos comprise almost half of the entire Chorus.  

Then there’s stretching exercises as well as breathing exercises to prepare for singing. You don’t have to be able to carry a tune or to read music, at first, but it helps. Once we’ve done the warmups, the actual songs are passed out, if they’re not already in a black binder (provided) containing songsheets that are numbered. It is a good idea to bring the binder, a bottle of water, and a tape recorder to record the songs and section’s part. 

The songs themselves are labor standards such as Solidarity Forever, parodies of popular tunes such as Some Subversive Evening, and topical songs by current songwriters such as Pat Humphries’ No Sweat. Quite a few are written by Pat Wynne and her husband Bernard Gilbert.  

All of the more than 300 songs are constantly rehearsed for the many performances that we do. Many of those songs are woven into “Agitproperas,” or narratives with songs in them on imprtant issues of the day. The year 2002 saw “Beans, Bacon and Gravy” about the Great Depression and the Centnnial of Woodu Guthrie’s birth.  

Another Centennial, that of the IWW produced a short but lively one in 2005 We are presently performing our latest Agitpropera “We’re All Immigrants at the Western Workers Labor Heritage Cultural Festival on January 19th. We are of many ages ideologies, and occupations, but qhat we have in common that we love to sing. We have soloists and non soloists that carry parts of a song much better than others. We also have songwriters and writers that write and deliver parts of narratives.  

Still others find “gigs’ for us to sing at, conventions, picket lines, retirement dinners and more. Someone asks Pat, “Can we?” and a list is prepared and songs selected for it. If it is feasible, at least a dozen memberd will show up. In 2006 Pat wanted to raise money for the Highlander Research and Education Center near Knoxville, Tennessee.  

Some of us had never heard of it, but when we found out that Rosa Parks, Dr. King and activist musicians had learned their smarts there, we plunged into the script with enthusiasm, and, with our outstanding friends Vukani Mwethu, the South African Chior under the direction of Andrea Turner, we raised $2,500 for Highlander.  

That done, we raised money for us to pay a visit there. On the Thursday before Labor Day, about 35 singers from both choruses headed out of SFO to Knoxville for Highlander’s 75th Anniversary Celebration It was a huge plot of land with few buildings but a lot of pavillion tents to serve thousands of people with food, music and workshops. For 3 days that place really rocked! It was unforgettable. 

On Labor Day we were invited to sing for the Teamsters at their Union Hall. This was a couple of days after Cal beat the Tennessee Volunteers at the Memorial Stadium. We were picked up at our hotels by the Teamsters, and Pat and I were riding in a car with the Union President.  

“Where ya from?” He asked. “ The San Francisco Bay Area” Pat said “Berkeley” I replied. “Do you have anything to do with those naked people up in those trees?’ “We sang for them” Pat said,.  

Then I explained the issues. “Well if we see any naked people like that we’ll turn ‘em right out of here.” I’m glad we beat their team, ha, ha. As I close this piece I’m proud to say that the Chorus has an important part in preserving labor Rights and Culture If we lose our ground in the Union movement we will lose what it has taken decades to gain.  

I ask the reader to come and join the Chorus for fun and for adventure, because it feels right.  

From “Listen To The Voices” by Melody Knight: 

Singing out for justice  

Singing out for freedom  

Call us if you need us  

We will Join Your fight!  


Every other Saturday, 12:30-4 p.m. Laney College LBST 214 or code L0791, begins 1/26. Call 464-3210