- Lyrics written by
- Guy Carawan, Frank Hamilton, Pete Seeger, Zilphia Horton, [Traditional]
- Original music written by
- Original lyrics written by
- Copyright date
- Adapted from
We Will Overcome written by [Traditional], [Unknown]
This adaptation misses two verses of We Will Overcome (the root work), "We will build a new world" and "The Lord will see us through". "We'll walk hand in hand", is part of this work, though. Pete Seeger added "We shall live in peace" and "We are not afraid (today)" to that, Guy Carawan "The truth will make us free". Not all versions include each of those lines and other artists later also improvised additional ones.
In 2016, the United States District Court in Manhattan ruled that the chorus is public domain = traditional and the additional lyrics by Seeger & co. remain their work. The right-holders then declared to thereafter refrain from claiming copyrights in the melody or lyrics of any verse of the song.
A protest song and key anthem of the Civil Rights Movement. An early version was first published as "We Will Overcome" in the September 1948 issue of the People's Songs organization's bulletin (director: Pete Seeger). The introduction was by Zilphia Horton, music director of the Highlander Folk School of Monteagle, TN, who had learned the song from CIO Food and Tobacco Workers Union members and played it a. o. to Seeger and Joe Glazer. The latter recorded it in 1950 on his album 8 New Songs for Labor, which was the first release of the song.
When Guy Carawan succeeded Horton as music director at Highlander in 1959, he reintroduced it to the young (many of them teenagers) student-activists. They gave the song the words and rhythms known when singing it during brutal police raids at Highlander and subsequently being jailed. Carawan was reluctant to take credit for the song's spreading popularity, but Pete Seeger has repeatedly named him for primarily teaching and popularizing it (plus credited himself to have changed the 'will' into a "shall').
Officially to prevent others from capitalizing on the song, Pete Seeger's manager in 1960 copyrighted "We Shall Overcome" (and "We Will Overcome") in the names of Guy Carawan, Frank Hamilton, Zilphia Horton and Pete Seeger with a 5th 'Public Domain' (= traditional) share. The resulting songwriting royalties income is said to go to the Highlander Education and Research Center, though.
There are a couple of historical events connected to "We Shall Overcome":
- In August 1963, Joan Baez led a crowd of 300,000 singing it at the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington.
- President Johnson, a Southerner himself, used the phrase "We shall overcome" in his speech to Congress on March 15, 1965, when demanding voting rights for Afro-Americans after the "Bloody Sunday" attacks during the Selma to Montgomery marches.
- Martin Luther King recited parts of "We Shall Overcome" at his final sermon Sunday March 31, 1968, shortly before his assassination, and it was sung by thousands at his funeral.
- It was sung by Senator Robert Kennedy, when in 1966 leading anti-apartheid crowds' choruses from the rooftop of his car in South Africa, which resulted in the song becoming an anthem of the anti apartheid movement.
For even more background info, see We Will Overcome.
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