Anne Feeney, a key part of the folk music movement and a committed political and labor activist, died Wednesday in Pittsburgh, Pa. Of complications from Covid-19. She was 69 and her daughter, Amy Sue Berlin, announced her passing on Facebook.
Feeney was a major player in the folk circuit, the first female president of a musicians’ union in the United States, and a regular contributor to folk icons like Pete Seeger, John Prine, and Peter Paul and Mary. His hymn Have you been in jail for justice is sung on picket lines and in prison cells around the world.
His career has included more than 4,000 shows in North America and Europe for strikers, in union halls and at major demonstrations. His performance at World Trade Organization protests in 1999 was featured in the documentary This is what democracy looks like. She has organized dozens of tours supporting various causes, including the Sing Out for Single Payer Healthcare tower in 2009, and raised tens of thousands of dollars for strike funds and progressive causes.
Have you been in jail for justice has been sung by activists around the world and has been checked in by Peter, Paul and Mary. She was a songwriter, but also a song collector who brought classic union anthems like Woody Guthrie to life. Union maid and Joe Hill’s Clear the bosses from your back.
She has released 12 albums during her career and has shared stages with Pete Seeger, Loretta Lynn, John Prine, Toshi Reagon, The Mammals, Dan Bern, the Indigo Girls and Billy Bragg. A lover of Irish music, she has memorized hundreds of Irish songs and has led singing tours in Ireland each year. She was a regular at the Kerrville Folk Festival, Oregon Country Fair and other big festivals.
Feeney was born July 1, 1951 in Charleroi, PA, and lived in the Brookline neighborhood of Pittsburgh. She was influenced by her grandfather, William Patrick Feeney, who was a first generation Irish immigrant, a miners’ organizer and a violinist who used music to support the organization of the working class.
Feeney graduated from the University of Pittsburgh Law School in 1978 and practiced as a lawyer for 12 years, primarily representing refugees and survivors of domestic violence. She was an active member of the American Federation of Musicians and World Industrial Workers (IWW).
She served on the board of directors of the Pennsylvania chapter of the National Organization of Women (NOW) and as president of the Pittsburgh Musicians’ Union from 1981 to 1997, the first and only woman to hold this position.
Tributes to Feeney poured in from musicians who knew her and her lifelong work.
Spoken word poet Chris Chandler, who toured with Feeney for over a decade, wrote that “Feeney’s insistence that we all use our voices, our art, to drown and put out the fires that threaten us, was evident in his rolled-up sleeve service for countless struggles.”
Singer / songwriter and punk activist Evan greer, who has organized around ten tours with Anne, said that Feeney was a “scab hater and lover of life.” Tireless fighter for the working class and all the oppressed. A true folk singer who wrote songs sung by the thousands, on the picket lines and in prison cells, to comfort the grieving and afflict the comfortable … my dearest friend and mentor who taught me the true meaning of solidarity.
Tom Morello, guitarist of Rage Against the Machine, said: “Great folk musician Anne Feeney was a courageous and formidable force for justice and workers’ rights on stage, in the studio and on the picket line. Through his art and his example, our comrade IWW will continue to be a beacon of hope and solidarity for future generations.
Peter Yarrow, Peter, Paul and Mary, said: “Anne Feeney was a songwriter / activist deeply committed to the great tradition of Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie. She was joyful and ardent in her determination to use her music to uplift the most marginalized and move towards more justice in the country. For Annie, it was a way of life. Her song “Have You Been to Jail for Justice”, which our trio recorded, was an anthem for all of us who joined Annie in “The Good Fight”.
“I had seen artists include politics in their show before,” said Justin Sane, leader of Anti-Flag. Told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “but Anne Feeney was the first artist I met whose setting was decidedly and fiercely political. This set had a major impact on me as an artist. I remember thinking to myself, “This is the kind of musician I want to be. This woman is punk like hell! “
Rusty Root Liz Berlin said that Anne Feeney “introduced me to the world of folk music and activism”.
Survivors include her children, Amy Sue Berlin and Daniel Berlin. Instead of flowers, Anne’s children ask their supporters to donate to the Thomas Merton Center, a hub of social justice activists in Pittsburgh, in his honor.