THE ALMANAC SINGERS
DEAR MR. PRESIDENT



(Keynote Album 111), recorded probably Feb 1942,
at an unidentified Central Park West studio.
Producer: Eric Bernay.
Released: 1942.

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AGNES 'SIS' CUNNINGHAM, accordion/vocal; MILLARD LAMPELL, vocal; BALDWIN 'BUTCH' HAWES, vocal/
poss. guitar; BESS LOMAX HAWES, vocal/mandolin; PETE SEEGER, banjo/vocal; ARTHUR STERN, vocal; EARL ROBINSON, director


That winter the Almanacs... lost another chunk of their working repertoire. After the Japanese invasion of Pearl Harbor, all American unions -- including those affiliated with the Communist Party -- adopted a "no-strike" pledge. Like their earlier songs of peace, labor songs were now passé.

When radio writer/producer Norman Corwin heard the Almanacs sing on a January 1942 broadcast of "We The People," he hired them for the debut of "This Is War," an ambitious mixture of music and propaganda. Heard nationwide on CBS on February 14, 1942, the show featured the Almanacs singing a rousing "Round and Round Hitler's Grave." The group was a sensation: Decca approached them about cutting an album. But within days the "New York Wold-Telegram" and "New York Post" printed damning stories about the singers' Communist affiliations, focusing on the treasonous "Songs for John Doe" album.

When Decca backed away from its contract offer, the Almanacs recorded "Dear Mr. President" for Keynote. Earl Robinson supervised the February 1942 session, which featured six songs in support of the war effort.

Ronald D. Cohen & Dave Samuelson, liner notes for "Songs for Political Action," Bear Family Records BCD 15720 JL, 1996, p. 94.

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If the FBI had a say in the matter, the Almanacs wouldn't have gotten the contract -- or any other. A bit behind the times, the Bureau had just discovered "Songs for John Doe," and decided the peace songs threatened wartime mobilization. Since the albums bore only the imprint "Almanac Records," though, the Bureau didn't know where to turn. J. Edgar Hoover sent out a memo, eventually forwarded to the Bridgeport police chief, asking if anybody knew anything about this Almanac gang.

On September 1, 1942, the special agent in charge of the FBI's New Haven office drove a hundred miles to a record-pressing firm in Newark, and discovered the masters of "John Doe" belonged to a company long extinct. Six month later, hot on the trail of the out-of-print records, the agent drove across Connecticut and the length of New Jersey to interrogate officials of the Radio Corporation of America. RCA, one of the most commercial record companies in the world, had never heard of the Almanacs. When the FBI agent asked them for a list of all the small record companies in the U.S., frustrated RCA executives suggested the FBI try reading Variety or Billboard....

After the RCA interview, various field offices tried to avoid jurisdiction; the New York office lost, and the file labeled "Gramophone Records of a Seditious Nature" reopened there. At this point, a year and a half had passed since the anti-war records had been issued. When the FBI finally walked into the office of Keynote Records, the manager baldly told them the discs were collector's items: "Things have changed since those were recorded."

Satisfied that subversion had been checked, on April 28, 1943, J. Edgar Hoover wrote the New York office to call off the chase. Hoover was irate because the three records that had started the investigation were now broken. "See to it," Hoover sternly noted, "that records are more carefully packed, in order that incidents of this type will not reoccur."

David Dunaway, How Can I Keep From Singing: Pete Seeger, New York, NY, 1990, pp. 102-106.