|FOCUS ON THE FACULTY
PROFESSOR FINDS SOCIAL MEANING IN MUSIC'S MESSAGE
|By Ashley Chapman|
"Turn down that loud music" is something that
almost everyone has heard during some point in his or her life, but
turning down the radio could cause people to miss more than the current
song, they could miss the message!
Danaher says he and a colleague, Ohio State
University sociologist Vincent Roscigno, began to discuss the
possibility that, in the 1920s-30s, the widespread popularity of the
new mass medium of radio contributed to a new culture that
emerged in the American South, especially involving textile workers. In
Danaher and Roscigno's research, they discovered that there was a
pattern between a town having a radio station and workers participating
in the textile strikes.
They found a pattern in areas of the South when they compared the date that a radio station received its broadcasting license, and the location and date of specific textile strike locations within that station's broadcast area.
One example Danaher sites is the "Strike of 1934" when 400,000 textile workers walked out of the mills and took to the streets demanding better working conditions, shorter work days, and better pay. Danaher says the conditions endured by the mill workers during the early 20th century were exposed through songs performed by former textile workers on local radio stations, as well as those being sung by workers for entertainment after their 12-hour work days.
Danaher had the opportunity to meet and interview some of the textile workers as well as some of the popular musicians during that time. He says the common struggle being expressed in the song lyrics of those former workers gives people of today a glimpse of what life was truly like in the textile mills of the South. The musicians traveled from station to station, singing songs that united textile workers in different areas of the Southeast.
"If it hadn't been for music and the ability to expose a larger audience to the music through the radio, then the textile strike of 1934 would not have been nearly as large as it was," he said. It is important to note, Danaher adds, that in the early days of radio there were few restrictions as to what could be said on radio. But after the textile strikes increased as well as the number of radio stations, there was a corporate takeover of radio and regulation of the "public airwaves" when the Radio Act of 1934 was passed by Congress and the Federal Radio Commission (predecessor of today's FCC) was formed.
But by then, the power and influence of radio had been established. "The music, along with the innovations brought about by the radio, defined the collective identity and group solidarity of the textile workers during the strikes of the '20s and '30s." Danaher says. "The music, was- and still is- a reflection of society at that time and also shows how music can actually change society."
Ultimately, the results of the research coincided with Danaher and Roscigno’s original premise that, "New technologies during the Depression Era changed the views of the Southern textile worker and also changed how the U.S. government viewed those textile workers."
Although present day society is not suffering from the same injustices as the textile workers of long ago, Danaher says it is important to remember that music gives the listener some insight into the identity of the culture and the social issues relevant to society at the time.
"The textile strikes and their importance in American history were hardly mentioned in the past," Danaher concludes. "It is a story that needs to be told, because the results changed society forever."
Danaher is telling that story "that needs to be told." This summer the book he was written (along with Vincent Roscigno), "The Voice of Southern Labor: Radio, Music and Textile Strikes, 1929-1934," will be released. Says Danaher, "In the book, we show how the message of the Southern mill hands led to a collective identity among textile workers and spread through the region with the advent of radio the rise of ex-mill musicians, and how their sense of opportunity was further bolstered by President Franklin Roosevelt's speeches and policies, and how this was connected to the massive strike of 1934 involving more than 400,000 mill workers." More on the book can be found at: http://www.upress.umn.edu/Books/R/roscigno-voice.html
For more information about Dr. William Danaher, see his website at: http://www.cofc.edu/~danaherw