“Make Marc Mayor”: Songs for Political Action

The April issue of Monthly Review contains a biographical profile of Vito Marcantonio.  Marcantonio, or Marc as he was known, was the product of one of the worst slums in early twentieth-century New York.  Through seven Congressional terms in the 1930s and 40s, he was an indefatigable voice for his poor and oppressed constituents and the foremost proponent of humanely engaged radical solutions for the nation’s ills.

In 1949 Marc ran for mayor of New York City.  While he understood he had little chance to win, the bruising campaign allowed Marc to speak out against “the big real estate interests, the bankers, and the whole Wall Street gang.”  He also spoke out against segregated and substandard housing, an increase in transit fares, and police brutality.  The New York Times described the campaign as “one of the oddest in the history of New York City,” referring, no doubt, to the innovative techniques used by the American Labor Party (ALP), a local leftist grouping that was Marcantonio’s base.  The ALP used a forerunner of the political commercial, mounting a back projection system on pick-up trucks that exhibited short films on key campaign issues featuring Paul Robeson, Pete Seeger, and the candidate himself.  At least one of these films is preserved in New York’s Museum of Modern Art.  The ALP’s campaign staff included a “music desk” responsible for the production of “Make Marc Mayor” campaign songs sung at rallies and distributed on paper discs.

The music desk was actually a project of Peoples Artists, a post-Second World War effort to organize performers on behalf of unions, civil rights campaigns, and leftist political candidates. Linked here are five songs from Marcantonio’s campaign.  The performers included The Weavers, a quartet comprised of Pete Seeger and Lee Hayes, veterans of the pre-war Almanac Singers who sung on behalf of union organizing drives, and Fred Hellerman and Ronnie Gilbert, both of whom had performed for radical groups in the New York area and for Henry Wallace‘s 1948 presidential campaign.  Hope Foye and Laura Duncan were accomplished African American singers. Foye was a trained concert soprano who had also sung with the acclaimed jazz singer Mary Lou Williams and had performed with Paul Robeson.  Duncan was a successful jazz-influenced blues singer and actor.  Seeger wanted both to join The Weavers, but scheduling conflicts and the 1950s blacklist prevented that. Nonetheless, in a 1949 issue of the Peoples Artists newsletter, Seeger introduced Foye as the newest member of The Weavers.

Here are Marc’s campaign songs (click on the title to listen to the song):

Click on the image for a larger view.
Abner Diamond teaches communications at the Fashion Insitute of Technology in New York. He canvassed door-to-door for Marcantonio, and this woodcut was inspired by the graphic artists of Mexico.

John J. Simon has been a book editor and public radio and television producer. He is a director of the Monthly Review Foundation.