Symphony musicians lead Labor Day parade
Dressed in formal concert attire, musicians from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra marched at the head of 40,000 workers in the Motor City’s annual Labor Day parade on September 6th. The musicians voted in August to reject the outrageous demands of the DSO management, authorizing a strike that could begin as early as September 23rd. Management proposals include cutting salaries by 33%, drastic cuts in health insurance, and the elimination of contributions to pension plans. Since the 2008 economic crisis other North American orchestras have experienced serious deficits, and symphony musicians everywhere are concerned that the DSO management’s model of deep cuts to salaries and benefits and refusal to negotiate will spread to other cities.
Israel cultural boycott update
Legendary Jewish singer, actor and civil rights activist Theodore Bikel, who gave a record 2000-plus performances as lead character Tevye in the musical “Fiddler on the Roof”, has spoken out in support of Israeli theatre artists who refuse to perform in the occupied territories. Bikel, now 86, was co-founder of Tel Aviv’s Cameri Theatre in 1944. In another positive development, the Irish Palestine Solidarity Campaign announced in August that more than 150 Irish artists and musicians have pledged not to perform or exhibit in Israel or accept any funding from Israeli-connected institutions. Meanwhile, folksinger Pete Seeger is being urged to abandon his announced November 10th performance in an online rally “for a better Middle East” being organized by Israel’s Arava Institute and the Jewish National Fund. For more info visit http://adalahny.org/.
U.S. artists call on Obama to release Cuban Five
On the 12th anniversary of their arrest the Cuban Five have received a big boost from a group of American artists. Actors and Artists United for the Freedom of the Cuban Five, co-chaired by actors Danny Glover and Ed Asner, is calling upon artists to endorse a letter to President Obama urging him to issue an executive clemency order on behalf of the Five. In addition to Glover and Asner, the list of artists includes filmmaker Oliver Stone, actors Elliott Gould, Susan Sarandon & Martin Sheen, as well as musicians Jackson Browne, Ry Cooder, Chrissie Hynde, Graham Nash, Bonnie Rait and Pete Seeger. This marks the first time that well-known U.S. personalities have come together on behalf of the unjustly imprisoned Cubans. For more info visit http://www.thecuban5.org/.
U.K. artists force Blair to cancel book launch
Composer and electronic music pioneer Brian Eno was among a group of celebrated artists, including Tracey Emin and Vivienne Westwood, who signed a letter to the Guardian newspaper on September 8th, protesting the planned launch party of Tony Blair’s memoir “A Journey” at the publicly-owned Tate Modern art gallery. Their letter called the book launch “disgraceful” and reminded readers that Blair had lied to Parliament over the Iraq invasion and was incriminated in war crimes. The publicity and the threat of a demonstration by the Stop the War Coalition was enough to force Blair to cancel. Brian Eno is a strong supporter of the anti-war movement. Speaking at a rally earlier this year he called Blair “a weak, arrogant, cowardly man.”
Folk Against Fascism confronts BNP
The right of performers to have a say in how their work is used is being raised by two musicians’ organizations in the U.K. Folk Against Fascism was founded in 2009 in response to the co-opting of traditional folk music by the neofascist British National Party. The BNP has been able to exploit weaknesses in the law to sell CDs of folk musicians against their wishes. The British Musicians’ Union is calling for the Trades Union Congress to endorse a campaign to enact “moral rights” for performers. In a related case in the USA, Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey, surviving members of Peter, Paul & Mary, are calling upon the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage to stop using their version of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” at their rallies. They’re threatening legal action, but NOM apparently continues to use the song. For more info visit www.folkagainstfascism.com.
Abbey Lincoln: 1930-2010
The great jazz singer Abey Lincoln passed away on August 14th. Born Anna Marie Wooldridge in Chicago in 1930, she was originally marketed as a sexualized supper club singer, but was awakened by the civil rights struggles in the mid-fifties. Changing her name to Abbey Lincoln in 1956, she subsequently dedicated herself to jazz singing. Her collaborations with drummer-composer Max Roach (1924-2007) were important cultural events in the civil rights movement, particularly their 1960 album “We Insist! Freedom Now Suite.” Lincoln went on to become an iconic figure in jazz. As she grew older her parched contralto never lost its expressive capacity. Check out the many tributes on YouTube, and don’t miss the clip of Lincoln the actress in the landmark 1964 film “Nothing But a Man.”