I listen to the radio in part because it reminds me of old favorites and introduces me to new music. This morning, I felt in the mood for traditional Irish folk songs, so I asked Alexa to play traditional folk songs. Of course, she went to American, but the first song she played is what prompted this post. She played “If I Had a Hammer,” something most American children are familiar with at least and a song that persists through the decades. The lyrics, beyond speaking to our current situation, made me curious.
The song was written in 1949 by The Weavers, a little ahead of its time. It speaks to the labor movement and reminds us of the importance of holding true to the principles of the United States rather than giving in to the historical reality as we plot our future. Peter, Paul, and Mary brought the song into the spotlight as part of the Civil Rights Movement in 1962 for the same reasons I’m pointed it out to you. Listen to the lyrics, hear the call, and let’s make a future better than what has come before.
Note: The original lyrics show the patterns of the time when the song was written. I learned it with most of the same lines but one change. Instead of “between all of my brothers,” sing “between my brothers and sisters.” This removes the sexism, but not the binary, so maybe a new pattern has been chosen.
If you want to read more about the song’s history, here’s a good summary: https://www.thoughtco.com/if-i-had-a-hammer-1322500