Guest Blogger, Steven Coburn, Features New York City Labor Chorus

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New York City has always been central to the labor movement in America, from the early protests and safety reforms resulting from the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911, to the recent activism resulting in increased minimum wage and guaranteed paid sick leave passed into law in 2016. So with one of the highest percentages in the country of unionized workers, as well as one of the most economically stratified populations in the country, it is appropriate that the New York City Labor Chorus was founded here in 1991 “for the purpose of bringing the message of workers’ history and struggles for social and economic justice through song to people everywhere.”

This 75 member multi-cultural and generational chorus, directed since 2010 by Jana Ballard, has representation from over 20 local unions and district councils. Their repertoire includes the great classic songs of American protest, labor, and civil rights movements, and spans genres from folk and classical, to gospel, world, and contemporary hits. They will sing anything that promotes and serves the message of the struggles of labor and peoples’ rights. In fact, they even occasionally rewrite the lyrics of choral classics to better reflect their social and political message, as heard here in their updated version of the famous “Hallelujah Chorus.”

It is in the spirit of social unity and political activism that the New York City Labor Chorus brings the power of music to events ranging from local picket lines, parades, and marches to community events at New York City churches, schools, and civic organizations. The chorus also has brought their message to many larger venues including the UN, Carnegie Hall (for the Paul Robeson Centennial), and Madison Square Garden (for Pete Seeger’s 90th birthday), and national events including the DNC Convention, the Woodie Guthrie Centennial, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebrations. They even carried their message as far as Sweden in 1997, Wales in 2008, and Cuba in 2011. The chorus can be heard on their three CDs, all available on their website.

Hats off to Labor- From the chorus's 16th anniversary concert at the Ethical Culture Society auditorium

Workers Rise!- Labor in the spotlight

On the March!- Songs of struggle and inspiration

“Wherever the struggle for people's rights is being waged, the New York City Labor Chorus will be there." 

Here they are singing the famous South African song of freedom “Siyahamba.”