Music: Singing about hard times

women doing laundry in washtubs Every now and then I have a bad day and start to get down about how things are hard. We all do. Lines are long at the store, working late, bills to pay, one-thing-after-another type of challenges.

Then, something comes along as a reminder of those in the past that faced incredible struggles. For some just staying alive each day was difficult, not to mention having food to eat or enough health to make a living.

I have written before about how music can be a release and reflection of what troubles us. Sometimes, singing has been the only thing a person has for comfort, literally – in prison, working in the fields, in protest, in the face of death, in any situation where the odds are stacked against you.

A great example of this is the subject of coal mining and the many songs around the life of a miner and family. Specifically miners at the Brookside Mine in Harlan County, Kentucky and events in June 1972, which is documented in the movie Harlan County USA. Here is a clip from the movie where Florence Reece, the daughter and wife of coal miners, sings Which Side Are You On?”. Folklorist Alan Lomax, who collected it from her in 1937, claimed she wrote the song at age 12.

Most famously, Loretta Lynn effectively tells her experience and hardship through music in Coal Miner’s Daughter. Listening to Loretta’s song reminds me that my daily troubles are nothing. For instance, I don’t have bloody fingers from constantly doing the laundry by hand. And listening to Florence’s song reminds me to be thankful that I am living a better life because of those that came before and made a difference.

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