Gonna Roll The Union On
03. Gonna Roll the Union On
(John Handcox-Lee Hays/Stormking Music, BMI)

Track 3 – Gonna Roll the Union On (MASTER MA 118)
This is another of the unreleased tracks from the April, 1944, marathon. It was written by the charismatic activist of the integrated Southern Tenants Farmer Union, John Handcox, two of whose late 1930’s songs, are still remembered, still sung: “Raggedy, Raggedy Are We” and the rousing “Roll the Union On.” In 1937, Handcox made a trip to Washington, D.C., where he was recorded by Charles Seeger, Pete’s musicologist father, and Sidney Robertson Cowell, the wife of composer Henry Cowell and a musicologist herself. Alan Lomax, then head of the Archive of American Folk Song, pressed Pete Seeger, Charles’ son, and Guthrie, to listen and learn Handcox’s songs. Both were members of the Almanac Singers; the Almanacs would later sing these on picket lines to boost the picketers’ spirits, just as Handcox had intended.

The melody and structure of “Roll the Union On” is, of course, the black spiritual “Roll the Chariot On.” The fact that the union was integrated led Guthrie to conclude in his notes to the song in Hard Hitting Songs for Hard-Hit People that “it takes all kinds of colors of make a picture.” This is another of Asch’s unreleased masters.