Inspired by the legacy of Gil Levine, Wednesday, May 1st, 2019 will mark the 10th anniversary for Ottawa’s Gil’s Hootenanny, the annual community sing-along celebrating the stories, struggles and victories of working people.
Gil Levine spent his life working for social justice and was the founding Director of Research at the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE). A great lover of folk music and an enthusiastic supporter of folk musicians, Gil believed in the collective power of song to bring people together to speak up and sing out for change.
“Dynamic… magnificent… joyful”
are some of the superlatives used to describe the experience of
singing together in harmony led by Evemarie Brunelle. After a
knock-out, sold-out event last fall that left Ottawa participants
clamouring for more, the Montreal-based singer, choir leader, and
performer will return on October 27th with BIG SING
The finale at Gil’s Hootenanny is always the highlight of a joyous
evening. On May 1, 2018, the rafters of Ottawa’s Clark Hall rang with
the sounds of over 300 voices singing “We Shall Not Be Moved,” the
African-American spiritual turned labour anthem. The hootenanny brings
people together to sing songs of protest and hope, belting out their
belief in the power of collective singing for change. Buzzing with
optimism, the audience left for home that night singing and carrying a
message of inspiration to the streets and neighbourhoods of the city.
A capacity audience sang from start to finish at arguably the best organized and best attended 10th Anniversary Gil’s Hootenanny held May 1st, 2019 at the RA Centre. As people arrived, the Hootenanny Choir (a.k.a. Just Voices Activist Choir) was singing in the foyer. This set the stage for participation in a wide variety of “songs of protest, songs of hope”. While some of the songs were new, most were quite old and had survived many iterations through the “folk process” over decades or even hundreds of years. This review will include some of that musicology. The organizers of Gil’s Hootenanny deserve praise for the breadth and depth of song selection at this anniversary event.
In the hall, while they were finding their seats, a video of past Hoots played on the big screen over the stage with concert clips and interviews of past participants. The choir and video were both very welcoming touches.
The real Hootenanny began with a parade of performers marching down both aisles to the stage singing Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around, a civil rights song adapted from a spiritual first recorded by the Dixie Jubilee Singers in 1924. Resurrected by the Reverend Ralph Abernathy during the summer of 1962 when mass arrests and demonstrations erupted for the second time, he taught it one night to a mass meeting at Mount Zion Baptist Church.
Levine died at 85 in 2009, three words in his obituary, “… plan a
hootenanny”, were the beginning of Gil’s
Hootenanny, an Ottawa tradition
now into its milestone 10th
year and getting stronger.
year on May Day, this annual celebration of the collective power of
song to change the world was inspired by Gil, the founding Director
of Research at the Canadian Union
of Public Employees (CUPE), a
great lover of folk music and a staunch supporter of folk musicians.
Helen Levine, who died at 95 in October 2018, also considered herself
an “old folkie”. Helen and Gil showed their love of folk music in
many ways, including hosting annual hootenannies and May Day
celebrations at their home for decades.
favourite troubadors were Pete Seeger and Phil Ochs, and Gil’s
Hootenanny always celebrates
these musical legends with a song or two. Helen and Gil had a
particularly strong connection to Pete. In 1957, Gil co-produced a
Seeger concert in Ottawa – with friends Harvey Glatt and Max
Sternthal – at a time when he was blacklisted in the US. Helen
recalled that they “scraped $25 together to rent the hall, which
wasn’t easy back then”. As 2019 marks the 100th
Anniversary of Pete Seeger’s birth, the Hootenanny will pay homage
to him with a special
presentation by Steve Richer, folk singer and banjo-playing
Professor Emeritus at Carleton University.
song-writing contests and workshops, Gil’s
Hootenanny has made a
significant contribution to Canada’s hope and protest songbook.
Tony Turner’s 2015 contest-winning song, “Harperman”,
went viral in Canada and beyond. Mark Evenchick’s 2016 winning
song “Believe Again” and
2017’s winner “Rise Above”
by Christine Graves have become staples of their impressive
Gil’s vision of a better world included bringing people together to
celebrate and share the stories, struggles and victories of working
women and men. It is thus fitting that Gil’s
Hootenanny has evolved into a
fun, energetic sing-along event that celebrates the power of song to
change the world.
Hootenanny will take place on Wednesday, May 1st
at 7:30pm in Clark Hall at the RA Centre, 2451 Riverside Drive.
Staffed by UNIFOR members, the RA Centre is accessible, has loads of
parking and is well serviced by OC Transpo.
A sold out audience sang and clapped their way through a rollicking 2018 Gil’s Hootenanny at the Clarke Room of the RA Centre on May 1st. Everyone, audience, performers and volunteers had a great time. Here are some highlights:
A Light of A Much Brighter Kind Finale
Solidarity We Bleed
Right Here Finale
We Shall Not Be Moved
See you all next year. Same day. Same time. Same place.