Review by Mike Matejka
No one in American labor history has won the mythic status of Mary “Mother” Jones (1837-1930).
This Irish immigrant, who lost her family to disease and her business to the Great Chicago Fire, became the nation’s roving rabble-rouser in the final third of her life.
Traveling from picket line to coal mine to jail cells, this spirited figure rallied many a strike. Today she rests in the Union Miners’ Cemetery in Mt. Olive, Illinois, surrounded by the coal miners for whom she fought.
A unique two CD musical compilation brings together songs about her, coal mining and a working class fighting spirit.
The CD benefits the Mother Jones Monument over her grave, recently restored with the fund-raising efforts of the Illinois AFL-CIO.
Most of the 35 songs here are in a country or folk vein, some very traditional, others more contemporary in their sound. There are a few “name” musicians one might recognize here, like Steve Earle with Del McCoury and Billy Bragg. The majority are musicians inspired by a colorful woman, who knew well how music could lift the spirits and how her own appearance, dressed in Victorian garb, was theatrical itself.
A special treat is the original recording from 1930s-40s “singing cowboy” Gene Autry, who had his first hit in 1931, “The Death of Mother Jones.”
Liner notes from Dr. Rosemary Feurer tells the impact this woman’s life had, both the reality of her spirited interventions and the inspiration she was to others.
The CD is available for $24, including shipping, from the Mother Jones Museum