Peggy Lee’s Patriotic Train Song

IMG_6784After recently visiting the family apartment of young Peggy Lee in Wimbledon, I’ve found myself spinning a number of her discs, especially from the big band 1940s.

Oh, to clarify: I mean her home in Wimbledon, North Dakota. As the residents there would observe, “not that other Wimbledon” so often in the news.

Over this extended Fourth of July holiday, Peggy Lee’s music has nicely illustrated that era. In particular, I’ve been quite taken with her part in the all-star 1947 track “The Freedom Train.”

IMG_6767Peggy Lee’s vocal is part of an upbeat Irving Berlin-penned number also featuring Johnny Mercer, Benny Goodman, Margaret Whiting, and others extolling a real-life post-war patriotic rallying device.

The Freedom Train carried original versions of such documents as the U.S. Constitution, Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights through the 48 contiguous United States. In part, the purpose was to rekindle in peacetime America some of the patriotic appreciation of World War II.

The song is catchy and, in repeated listening, I’ve come to especially appreciate its confident description of what it means to be an engaged citizen. Lyrically, “The Freedom Train” is an invitation to question and criticize the government. That’s what you are supposed to do in an active Democracy.

Shout your feelings! Write a letter to the President! Or, tell him (and any other elected officials) to their face. If you dislike the current laws and officials, get the votes to replace them. If you can do it better, then do it.

Often the process is messy. Uncomfortable, at times. But that’s in part what makes the Fourth of July such an important national holiday. This is what “We the People” really involves.

Appropriately, in that spirit, The Freedom Train itself was the subject of criticism. In his poem, “The Freedom Train”, Langston Hughes spoke about that potent symbol and its challenges traveling the Jim Crow corridors. Paul Robeson recorded a powerful reading of that work.

The engagement continues today. Blogger Karl Fogel chose to look at the Declaration of Independence and the recent actions of Edward Snowden. Patriot? Traitor?

It comes back to the closing chorus of that 1947 “Freedom Train” song. Even if we disagree with what someone has to say, we can (we should) fight to let them say it, and to say it loud. That’s the thunder far louder than any fireworks show.

© 2013 by Walter J. Podrazik

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