Wasn't That a Time?

Wasn't That a Time?


     Although I Dig Rock and Roll Music, I'm really more of a folkie, fond of not only the folk-rock of Bob Dylan, the Byrds, Simon & Garfunkel, etc., but of traditional American folk music and of those that popularized it all.  
     The other day I was listening to my vinyl album, Peter, Paul & Mary's, "A Song will Rise," and became curious about a song called, "Wasn't That a Time."  The album credits the song to Lee Hays.  Since I'd seen it attributed to Pete Seeger, I did some digging. 

     Pete Seeger himself claims the song was written by both Lee Hays and Walter Lowenfels in 1948.  

   I had never heard of Walter Lowenfels.  Wikipedia tells us he was a poet and a journalist (he edited a communist paper called "The Worker") who was arrested and imprisoned during the McCarthy era for attempting to overthrow the American government.   Lee Hays I knew as a singer/songwriter/social activist who was an original member a singing group called the Weavers along with Ruth Gilbert, Fred Hellerman and the more famous Pete Seeger.  Although Seeger is sometimes incorrectly credited with having written "Wasn't That a Time,"  he and Hays did author separately  or co-author many famous songs such as "Kissed Sweeter Than Wine,"  "If I Had a Hammer,"  "Where Have All the Flowers Gone," and "Turn, Turn, Turn,"  while the group, and/or group members popularized many traditional songs and those from other musicians, such "On Top of Old Smoky," "Wimoweh,"  "Rock Island Line,"  "Midnight Special" and "Wreck of the (Sloop) John B. as well as Huddie Ledbetter's "Goodnight Irene,"  Folk music, as it developed through the 1960s, was indebted to the Weavers 

     Both Hays and Seeger were veterans of the labor movement which helped raise awareness and incite changes in how workers were treated, paid and protected. They were also communists with a misguided idealistic belief in Stalin as well as anti-war protestors until Hitler invaded Russia.

     Not long after the release of their first successful commercial venture, "Goodnight Irene," the Weavers were blacklisted. They lost their recording contract, they were barred from TV, their songs were banned from the airwaves and their recordings pulled from store shelves.   By this time, the Weavers music was totally non-political and they had already cut ties with the American Communist Party (and did a 180 in their opinion of Stalin). The Weavers soon disbanded.


    Both Hayes and Seeger were eventually called before the House Un-American Activities Committee.     Hayes was evasive and pleaded the 5th Amendment like so many others.  Seeger was asked specifically about having performed the song, "Wasn't that a Time." He replied, "Well, that's a good song, and I know it. I'll sing it for you."  He pleaded the 1st Amendment asserting his right "not to speak" about his political beliefs of those of his acquaintances.   For refusing to answer their questions directly, Seeger was cited with contempt and entered into a decade-long battle with the government before he was exonerated.  After Seeger's appearance before the committee, the Weavers came back together and performed at Carnegie Hall.  While pressure could be but upon certain labels, tv networks and radio stations to  cooperate in the blacklisting efforts, the performers couldn't be restricted from performing, 


     The Weavers also signed with Vanguard Records whose founders, the adventurous Seymour and Maynard  Solomon, thumbed their nosed at the Red Channels Blacklist and recorded the Weavers starting with a "live" Carnegie Hall album.  

     The blacklist was serious business and may even contributed to ruining unrelated ventures as well as artists' careers.  In the early 1960s a TV show called Hootenanny served as a limelight for established and aspiring folk music artists.  Unfortunately the producers felt obliged to honor the blacklisting still in effect against the Weavers (even though Seeger had been legally untangled by then). The refusal to invite Pete Seeger had it's own backlash with performers such as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Peter, Paul & Mary, Rambin; Jack Elliot, The Kingston Trio, Tom Paxton and others boycotting the show.   Carlolyn Hester, who also boycotted the show,  put it bluntly that in a showdown between the spirit of Joe McCarthy and the spirit of Pete Seeger, there was no contest.  The program only survived a year and a half.

      Wasn't That a Time

Our fathers bled at Valley Forge.
The snow was red with blood.
Their faith was warm at Valley Forge.
Their faith was brotherhood.

Wasn't that a time, wasn't that a time,
A time to try the soul of man,
Wasn't that a terrible time?

Brave men who died at Gettysburg,
Now lie in soldier's graves.
But there they stemmed the slavery tide
And there the faith was saved.


The fascists came with chains and war
To prison us in hate.
And many a good man fought and died
To save the stricken faith.


And now again the madmen come
And should our vic'try fail?
There is no victory in a land
Where free men go to jail


Our faith cries out we have no fear.
We dare to reach our hand
To other neighbors far and near,
To friends in every land

Isn't this a time!
Isn't this a time!
A time to free the soul of man!
Isn't this a wonderful time!