Now Available: Songs My Mother Taught Me by Fannie Lou Hamer
On June 30, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings releases Fannie Lou Hamer’s Songs My Mother Taught Me, based on a rare, limited-edition 1963 recording of the inspirational civil rights activist. The compilation features raw recordings of Hamer singing spirituals, many of which became civil rights anthems, both alone and with a congregation of vocalists. It also includes monologues from Hamer about her difficult childhood and her experiences as an early leader of the American Civil Rights Movement. This album, featuring 1965 interview with Hamer by Julius Lester and new liner notes by folklorist Mark Puryear, is the only known publicly available recording of Hamer singing. She is best-known for her sharp-witted speeches, having coined the phrase “I’m just sick and tired of being sick and tired” in her testimony before the Credentials Committee at the 1964 Democratic Convention in Atlantic City, NJ. On this album, listeners will hear her powerful voice singing with the same passion.
Coinciding with this release, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings will present a special free concert in tribute to Hamer (day and location TBA - check folkways.si.edu for details). This concert celebrates Hamer’s life and participation in the marches at Selma, Alabama, 50 years ago. President Barack Obama listed Hamer among those key to the movement in his speech in Selma earlier this year.
Born during the Great Migration of the early 1900s, American civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer (1917—1977) grew up in an era when rights for blacks and women were being contested. Hamer was a sharecropper’s child, picking cotton as early as age six. While working in the fields, Ms. Hamer and her mother would often sing songs that expressed the unyielding difficulties of labor, and reflected a desire for a better life.
Hamer sought respite from the grueling workdays of her youth by throwing herself into her education and her faith. Though her schooling was limited—African Americans at the time attended segregated schools that were only in session four months of the year— Ms. Hamer continued her education independently of the system by being a diligent student of the Bible. In church, she fell in love with singing and the power of music to communicate, unify, and overcome adversity. It was this foundation that led to Hamer to become a leader of the Civil Rights Movement through her words and songs.
A proud and courageous woman, Ms. Hamer frequently sought to defy the many injustices to which she was born. She was a fierce advocate of voting rights for African Americans and women, and frequently led and inspired the charge through song. She became an active member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which played an integral role in the American Civil Rights Movement. Hamer and the rest of SNCC faced severe brutality, beatings, and even murder in the face of their noble efforts, but never faltered. Hamer helped lift their spirits through song.
The music on Songs My Mother Taught Me was originally released as a limited-edition cassette tape at the Smithsonian Institution’s Voices of the Civil Rights Movement symposium in 1983. It was compiled by folklorist, activist, and GRAMMY-winner Worth Long and produced by renowned singer, song leader, and civil rights activist Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon. The compilation is interspersed with monologues about Hamer’s time in the cotton fields, and during one interlude, she admits, “by the time I was 13, I was picking 200 and 300 pounds.”
The unabashed delivery and emotionally driven vocals on Songs My Mother Taught Me shed new light on an instrumental figure in the fight for civil and voting rights for African Americans and women in America.
This recording is the eighth release in the Smithsonian Folkways African American Legacy Series, co-presented with the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
- Precious Lord
- On Being a Sharecropper
- Run, Mourner, Run
- City Called Heaven
- All the Pretty Little Horses
- I’m Gonna Land on the Shore
- Oh Lord, You Know Just How I Feel
- I’m Going Down to the River of Jordan
- Jesus Is My Only Friend
- Pick a Bale of Cotton
- Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning
- Walk With Me
- This Little Light of Mine
- Mass Meeting Speech
- Certainly Lord
- Woke Up This Morning
- Amazing Grace