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Sarah Ogan Gunning

Sarah Garland Gunning of the singing Gunning clan was the tenth of 11 children in a dirt-poor Kentucky mining family. Her father, Jim Garland, joined the Knights of Labor, who became the United Mine Workers of America in 1884. At that time, conditions for miners were atrocious, with the average worker bringing home a dollar and 44 cents for a ten-hour day. Garland became an outspoken representative for the miners, pressuring the mine-owners into coughing up a more decent wage. He was quickly blacklisted and the only way he could continue working was to go down into the mines under aliases. Much time passed before the plight of the Kentucky miners became a matter of national attention. In 1931, a group of Northerners called the Dreiser Committee came to Kentucky to investigate atrocities that had been committed against the miners. By this time, Sarah Garland and her sister, Molly (later known professionally as Aunt Molly Jackson), had literally brought their voices to the family struggle by singing at various events. Their songs often included lyrics of their own creation, or sometimes they would take an existing song and change the words to create a message about the labor struggle. These songs were a powerful tool for forging an emotional bond with crowds at labor rallies. The members of the Dreiser Committee included authors John Dos Passos and Theodore Dreiser, who took the sisters back to New York City to help raise money for the miners' cause. By this time, Sarah Garland was already suffering from brown lung disease. She befriended folk artists such as Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Lee Hays, and Burl Ives in New York City, and they would go on to record her songs, such as "I Hate the Capitalist System," "Dreadful Memories," "Let's Go Down on the Picket Line," "I Am Going to Organize," and "Babe of Mine." At the start of World War II, she moved with her husband to Vancouver, where she worked in the Kaiser shipyards. She returned to Kentucky for tuberculosis treatment, when a hole the size of a silver dollar was found in her lungs. In the years following these successful treatments she retired from performing, but was brought back into the public arena by folklorist Archie Green in the '60s, performing at several major folk festivals before fading out again. Her songs regularly turn up in documentaries or compilations focusing on the labor movement. ~ Eugene Chadbourne
full bio

Selected Discography

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Track List: Harlan County USA: Songs Of The Coal Miner's Struggle

1. Coal Tattoo

2. Shut Up In The Mines Of Coal Creek

3. Come All You Coal Miners

4. Blue Diamond Mines

5. Yablonski Murder

6. Last Train From Poor Valley

7. Black Lung

8. Dark As A Dungeon

9. Trouble Among The Yearlings

10. Lawrence Jones

11. Coal Black Mining Blues

12. Coal Miner's Grave

13. Death Of Harry Simms

14. Mannington Mine Disaster

15. Cruel Willie

16. Hard Working Miner

17. Dream Of A Miner's Child

18. And Am I Born To Die?

19. Clay County Miner

20. One Morning In May

21. Which Side Are You On?

22. They'll Never Keep Us Down

Comments

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Very excellent! Love this music. It hits home. BECAUSE MY GRANDPA WAS A KENTUCKY COAL MINER

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