The Starvation Army

Joe Hill (1879 – 1915) was a labor activist, songwriter, and member of the Industrial Workers of the World. An immigrant worker frequently facing unemployment and underemployment, became a popular songwriter and cartoonist for the union.

Hill was convicted of murder in a controversial trial. Following an unsuccessful appeal, political debates, and international calls for clemency from high-profile figures, Hill was executed in November 1915.

One of his most famous songs is "The Preacher and the Slave" a parody of Joseph Webster’s hymn “The Sweet By and By”. Hill composed his response because migrant workers would often be greeted by the Salvation Army singing “The Sweet By and By” as they returned to the city each evening after having worked all day in dire conditions. The original hymn told them that life would begin after death. For Hill, life was possible before death, but only as we put our shoulder to the plow of historical struggle and fight for equality here and now.

It was proving difficult to find a good cover version of the song, so my friend Heatherlynn came over to my house and recorded a version especially for AfL.