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August 23: Malvina’s Little Boxes

August 23, 2014

Malvina_ReynoldsActivist songwriter and folksinger Malvina Reynolds was born to Jewish socialist immigrants in San Francisco on this date in 1900. She earned a doctorate at the University of California/Berkeley in 1938, and was already in her forties when she joined company with Earl Robinson, Pete Seeger, and other folk singers and songwriters. Her progressive, popular songs included “Little Boxes” (about conformity), “What Have They Done to the Rain” (about nuclear fallout), “It Isn’t Nice” (about civil rights), and numerous tunes for children, including several that she sang on Sesame Street. Her husband, William “Bud” Reynolds, once ran for governor of Michigan on the Socialist ticket, with the slogan, “You provide the evictions, we’ll provide the riots!” To read the lyrics of many of her songs, click here. Reynolds recorded six albums of music for adults and three for children before her death at 77 in 1978. To see her singing “Little Red Hen” accompanied by Pete Seeger, look below.

“It isn’t nice to block the doorway,
It isn’t nice to go to jail,
There are nicer ways to do it,
But the nice ways always fail.
It isn’t nice, it isn’t nice,
You told us once, you told us twice,
But if that is Freedom’s price,
We don’t mind.” —Malvina Reynolds