Bernice Johnson Reagon

Music

Freedom Singers

Freedom Singers, 1963 Café Lena Folk Club, Saratoga Springs, NY: Bernice Johnson in front, l to r: Charles Neblett, Cordell Reagon, Rutha Harris

1963 Saratoga Springs, NY Freedom Singers at Café Lena Folk Club Bernice Johnson in front, (l-r) Charles Neblett, Cordell Reagon, Rutha Harris

Bernice Johnson, Freedom Singer, 1963: visiting  a class in Schenectady, NY

Bernice Johnson, Freedom Singer, 1963: visiting a class in Schenectady, NY

Photographer: Joe Alper

Newport Folk Festival singing with Fannie Lou Hamer, 1966

1966 Newport Folk Festival It was always a powerful experience to sing harmony with Mrs Hamer, a leading organizer, dynamic speaker and incredible singer from the Mississippi struggle. The Newport Folk Festival made a point to always have songleaders from the Movement on program. Here we are accompanied by Len Chandler (off camera) on guitar.

Photographer: Diana Davies

I date my work as an organizer from being a student leader in my home town of Albany, Georgia. My work as an organizer, and singer was combined in my work as a Freedom Singer and field secretary for SNCC. We sang wherever we could find an audience, from concert halls, to living rooms to elementary schools.

The Freedom Singers were organized by Cordell Reagon in 1962. After witnessing the power of the singing in the Albany mass meetings, Peter Seeger suggested to James Forman that a singing group would be very supportive of the organization in building support, sharing information and raising funds.. Cordell, one of the SNCC field secretaries who came to Albany Georgia in 1961 was a wonderful tenor singer out of the Nashville Sit-in Movement. The youngest member of SNCC’s staff, by 1961 he had been on the Freedom Rides, worked in voter registration in McComb MS, sit-in demonstrations in Cairo, Il, and Alabama. He formed the first group of Freedom Singers from the movements he had been active in: Rutha Harris, soprano from Albany, Charles Neblett, bass from Cairo, Il and I sang alto. It was an amazing way to see the country, carrying the stories of local movement campaigns to audiences across the nation in song.

Songtalk Publishing Organized 1978

Management of the Music and Works of Bernice Johnson Reagon

Music licensing: contact Kathy Ostien

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