an infamous labor battle of the early 1900s sparked this album of satirical brass band songs!

Article Contributed by HearthMusic | Published on Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Coming May 3, 2024, this new album coming from anarcho labels PM Press and Free Dirt Records resurrects the lost history of the Wobblies' labor battles during the Spokane Free Speech fights of 1909. Surrounded by strike-busting Salvation Army bands paid for by the bosses, the International Workers of the World nicknamed them "Starvation Army" bands and fought back with their own IWW Brass Band. Lampooning and satirizing the religious imagery and jingoism of the scabs in the Salvation Army, the IWW Brass Band's songs would set the template for using folk song as a form of protest. This forgotten history has uncomfortable parables with today's modern world, and much to say about the power of creative protest.


There is still power in a union and its songs. Starvation Army: Band Music No. 1 - Songs of the IWW and the Salvation Army resurrects the IWW’s forgotten brass band repertoire. These songs helped the “Wobblies” prevail in the infamous Spokane Free Speech Fight of 1910, where protestors battled for the right to organize against bad pay and corrupt bosses. In response, the companies hired the local Salvation Army band (nicknamed “starvation” by the workers) to drown out their protests. Fighting back, J.H. Walsh’s IWW Brass Band waged sonic war with note-for-note parodies of these popular songs in a battle of the bands. Eventually the “Wobblies” won the public’s sympathy and helped overturn the ruling that made public protest illegal, in no small part through their music. This collection, performed by the Brass Band of Columbus together with New York Democratic Socialist choir Sing in Solidarity, features songs from the IWW’s Little Red Songbook, including those composed by the legendary Joe Hill, a surreal piece by the eclectic classical composer Charles Ives, as well as old Christian hymns paired with satirical lyrics. It’s a landmark revival of a forgotten thread of protest music and what conductor and project creator Chris David Westover-Muñoz says he hopes will renew the labor singing tradition.