Alfred Hayes

On this date in 1915, IWW organizer Joe Hill (not Jewish) was arrested for murder in Salt Lake City, Utah. His trial was considered a frame-up and his conviction was widely protested (by Woodrow Wilson and Helen Keller, among others). A writer of labor songs and parodies, Hill was immortalized in 1930 in the poem “Joe Hill” by Alfred Hayes (Haas), which was set to music in 1936 by Earl Robinson. Hayes was born to Jewish parents in London in 1911; the family moved to the U.S. when he was three. He was an active radical until he became disillusioned with communism in the 1930s. Hayes became a novelist, poet, and screenwriter (The Bicycle Thief), and in the 1960s was a television scriptwriter for The Alfred Hitchcock HourThe Twilight Zone, and other shows.

Ethel Raim
Ethel Raim

Joe Hill’s last will and testament (“My will is easy to decide / For there is nothing to divide”), written the night before he was executed by firing squad, was also set to music, in 1961, by Ethel Raim, a singer and teacher of Yiddish and Balkan music and a co-founder of New York’s Center for Traditional Music and Dance (originally known as the Balkan Folk Arts Center).

“’The copper bosses killed you, Joe
They shot you, Joe,’ says I
‘Takes more than guns to kill a man’
Says Joe, ‘I didn’t die’
Says Joe, ‘I didn’t die’” —Alfred Hayes

Watch Joan Baez singing “Joe Hill” at Woodstock in 1969.

Watch Joan Baez singing “Joe Hill” at Woodstock in 1969.