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Songs of the Working Man and Woman

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Ford factory workers in Labor Day parade, Detroit, Michigan, 1942. U. S. Farm Security Administration, Prints & Photographs Division.
Ford factory workers in Labor Day parade, Detroit, Michigan, 1942. Farm Security Admin., Prints & Photographs Division.

In the United States, the first Monday of September is the holiday celebrating American workers. Labor Day became a legal holiday in 1894 and while it has morphed into a day of shopping, picnics, speeches and sadly, summer’s farewell, the true meaning of the day, celebrating the American worker, should not be forgotten. In its honor we’re offering a complete Labor Day broadcast by Studs Terkel plus a track listing.

News photo of Studs Terkel, 1979.
News photo of Studs Terkel, 1979.

Studs Terkel, the Chicago oral historian, author and radio host, always commemorated Labor Day with a program he devoted to the working man and woman. First airing in 1960, his program featured songs about sailors, farmers, miners, railroad workers, street callers and ended with the satirical Hallelujah, I’m a Bum!  Terkel wove commentary, psalms and poems throughout his broadcast reciting American poet Edwin Markham’s poem, The Man with the Hoe,  W. H. Davies poem, Leisure, and The Wayfarer, by Stephen Crane, among others


Listen to the entire 1974 Labor Day broadcast (it takes about 8 seconds to load). The songs and poems you’ll hear include:

1.  An excerpt from Psalm 107.

2.  Haul on the Bowline, a traditional short-drag sea shanty used for few pulls on a rope, in this case, the bowline.

3.  The Man with the Hoe, poem by Edwin Markham.  It’s said Markham was inspired to write his poem after seeing the painting  L’homme à la houe by the French artist, Jean-François Millet.

2.  The Farmer Boy Song, traditional English folk song performed by O. J.  Abbott, a Canadian lumberjack and farmer.

3.  The Shantyman’s Life, a song about the life of a lumberman, performed by Pete Seeger.

4.  Boll Weevil Blues, performed by Lead Belly (Huddie Ledbetter) and recorded by Alan Lomax in 1934.

5.  Gartan Mother’s Lullabye, written by Herbert Hughes and Joseph Campbell in 1904 and performed by Mary O’Hara, Irish soprano and harpist.

6.  Hunger, monologe by Aunt Molly Jackson, a traditional singer and story teller from Clay County, Kentucky.  Recorded by Alan Lomax in 1935.

7.  Sixteen Tons, describes a coal miner’s life, performed by Merle Travis.

8.  The Collier Laddie, traditional English folk song, performed by Ewan MacColl.

9.  Fresh peanuts caller,  John Henry Johnson.

10.  The Cobbler, Irish folk song performed by Tommy Makem.

11.  Hallelujah I’m a Bum, an I.W.W. (Industrial Workers of the World) song.  Harry McClintok wrote the parody to a hymn, Revive Us Again, written by John Jenkins Husband in the early 1800s. Performed by Fats Waller.

12.  I Ride an Old Paint, a cowboy song frequently used to calm down cattle and keep them from stampeding, performed by Harry Jackson.

13. Railroad caller, Joe Warner.

14.  Automation, a  satirical song about new factory technology, performed by Joe Glazer.

15.  Money, poem by Richard Armor.

15.  Talking Fishing Blues, performed by Woody Guthrie.

16.  The Wayfarer, poem by Stephen Crane.

17.  Amazing Grace, performed by Horton Barker.  Terkel says this is the hardest work of all.

18.  Hallelujah, I’m a Bum, performed by Utah Phillips.

19.  Reprise of Hallelujah, I’m a Bum, performed by Fats Waller.


The entire Studs Terkel Collection of sound recording is currently being digitized at the Library’s National Audio-Visual Conservation Center under an agreement with the Chicago History Museum. The recordings are available for listening in the Recorded Sound Research Center. You can find other programs at the The Studs Terkel / WFMT Oral History Archives, online at both Chicago History Museum and the Studs Terkel Archive. 


  1. Studs was justly proud of his radio voice. It was great to hear one of the great radio voices of the 20th century again. But he’s still with us. Go to a BLM protest. He and Ida are there, somewhere in that crowd.

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