Ronnie Gilbert’s Smiling Power


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A cleansing, windy warm summer rain, washed down Chicago on the morning after Ronnie Gilbert died, at 88, out in California. The smiling power in her voice still resonating. A voice from the past? A folk singer? Right?

Hardly. She was so much more.

There were three men in the Weavers, one of them was Pete Seeger. But they only needed one woman. That was Ronnie Gilbert.

Seeing her name on my screen I could hear that voice like it was wired into my very soul like some musical sign pointing straight towards justice. Straight toward hope. And I wanted Ronnie Gilbert to start singing to some of our contemporary bullies and scoundrels. People like our own Illinois Governor Hedgefund so frothing at the mouth eager to prey on the vulnerable. I wanted to tell her about the new plan that’s being floated to dismantle tenure and thereby curtail what can be taught. Bought and paid for by oil barons of evil, snickering in their self-righteousness with a wink, a nod and shrug of the shoulders as they say, “All we’re doing is balancing the budget” and then breaking out a giant guffaw as they slap their knees in greedy joy.

But then I remembered Ronnie Gilbert’s voice. And thought about how our evil doers of today, those that work to take away the right to vote, the right to organize, the right to live healthy, how none of them were really all that different from the McCarthy’s and such. The evil Ronnie Gilbert fought with the power and smile in her voice.

I remembered Ronnie Gilbert’s voice. How she used it for Good.

How she powered the struggle.

And how that voice of power seemed to always have a smile flowing strong as she sang us along.

Listen to her sing today. You’ll feel that smiling power too. The music goes on.

12 Responses to “Ronnie Gilbert’s Smiling Power”

  1. toritto Says:

    “Solidarity Forever”! Oh how I remember that song. Poppa was a union man. Thanks Roger. Best regards.

  2. boomerbob Says:

    Amazing voice, even at 88

  3. Helen Gagel Says:

    My favorite recording is the live concert with Holly Near. Two powerful women fighting the good fight

  4. Naomi de Plume Says:

    My daughter was listening to her this morning. I listened to Irene Goonight with her and my little one said, “she makes you feel safe, doesn’t she?”

  5. Tom Cordle Says:

    I’m veeery late to the game, but I remember Ronnie from The Weavers, back in the Great Folk Music Scare of the Fifties and Sixties. We somehow acquired a set of records called Treasury of Folk Music, or something like that. The Weavers were one of the artists featured, and that was the first time I heard “House of the Rising Sun”. Ronnie absolutely ripped your heart out with her rendition – it’s a shame more people haven’t heard that version. But, alas, that song is now “owned” by Eric Burdon and The Animals.

    Speaking of whom … amazingly, Eric is still alive; and at 77, he’s still performing. He’s probably just trying to outlive Keith Richards!

  6. chicagoguy14 Says:

    Eric is “just a soul whose intentions are good. . .oh lord, please don’t let him be misunderstood!”

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