Friday, May 1, 2015

Joe Hill's The Preacher and the Slave

May Day without remembering Joe Hill and the Wobblies? Unthinkable!

To call Joe Hill a rabble-rouser would be an understatement. To say that he was a hero of the working man would also be an understatement. An immigrant from Sweden, Joe Hill came to America during difficult times, when companies were known to use violence to keep their overworked and underprivileged employees under thumb.

Joe Hill would take popular songs, change the lyrics and come up with working man, pro-union tunes. One of his most famous reinterpretations, The Preacher and the Slave is remembered today for giving us the phrase, "pie in the sky."


The Preacher and the Slave

Long-haired preachers come out every night,
Try to tell you what's wrong and what's right;
But when asked how 'bout something to eat
They will answer with voices so sweet:

You will eat, bye and bye,
In that glorious land above the sky;
Work and pray, live on hay,
You'll get pie in the sky when you die.

The starvation army they play,
They sing and they clap and they pray
'Till they get all your coin on the drum
Then they'll tell you when you're on the bum:

You will eat, bye and bye,
In that glorious land above the sky;
Work and pray, live on hay,
You'll get pie in the sky when you die.

Holy Rollers and jumpers come out,
They holler, they jump and they shout.
Give your money to Jesus they say,
He will cure all diseases today.

You will eat, bye and bye,
In that glorious land above the sky;
Work and pray, live on hay,
You'll get pie in the sky when you die.

If you fight hard for children and wife --
Try to get something good in this life --
You're a sinner and bad man, they tell,
When you die you will sure go to hell.

You will eat, bye and bye,
In that glorious land above the sky;
Work and pray, live on hay,
You'll get pie in the sky when you die.

Workingmen of all countries, unite,
Side by side we for freedom will fight;
When the world and its wealth we have gained
To the grafters we'll sing this refrain:

You will eat, bye and bye,
When you've learned how to cook and to fry.
Chop some wood, 'twill do you good,
And you'll eat in the sweet bye and bye.


— Joe Hill


Joe Hill's The Preacher and the Slave is a reworking of the 1868 gospel hymnal Sweet Bye and Bye by S. Fillmore Bennett and Joseph P. Webster. At the time of his reinterpretation of the song in 1911, the Salvation Army had a reputation for trying to save the souls of itinerant workers. Joe Hill was no fan of the Army and its proselytizing and wrote The Preacher and the Slave as a rebuke of the Army's actions.

Born as Joel Emmanuel Hägglund in 1879, Hill came to America in 1902 working itinerant jobs from coast to coast. He became an activist, cartoonist and songwriter for the Industrial Workers of the World (Wobblies) beginning in 1910.

Hill was convicted of murder in Utah after a sensational trial and sentenced to death in 1915. His conviction made headlines around the world with many critics arguing that he was railroaded. His appeal lawyer, Orrin N. Hilton, stated, "The main thing the state had on Hill was that he was an IWW and therefore sure to be guilty." It is thought that Hill saw himself more valuable to the Wobblies as a dead martyr than a living activist even though he had an alibi that he never disclosed to the courts.