J-Heroes: Sing a song of freedom of the press?

August 2013 update: Alas, the video clip that began this page in 2010 has been taken off of YouTube because it was uploaded without the copyright holders’ permission… It was of “Sing Out,” a song about freedom of the press, sung by Nelson Eddy in the musical “Knickerbocker Holiday.” But it probably was never a Newspaper Guild union-marching song. And I don’t think it was one that would get today’s students marching off to journalism careers, but it is still an intriguing artifact — if you can find an authorized recording.

In the scene, we saw a freedom of the press singalong, as a crusading printer escapes the stocks in New Amsterdam to pass out his pamphlets to the crowd with this message:

“Sing out! Say your say! …
A man’s no man who never can sing out…
It’s your right!…
Make your vow. The time is now.
Sing out!…
(spoken) Read those pamphlets…”

(The film and the play it was based on are more well-known for the hit ballad “September Song,” which has nothing to do with “news.” It is sung by the aging governor of New Amsterdam, who is trying to steal the reporter’s much younger girlfriend.)

I haven’t seen the whole film, just the clips that were once on YouTube, but the Turner Classic Movies notes and IMDB plot summary explains that the hero of “Knickerbocker Holiday” is a journalist-printer cranking out broadsides attacking the government of Peter Stuyvesant in 17th century New Amsterdam.

The “Sing Out” song isn’t from the original Broadway play, which had more songs by Kurt Weill, including the famous “September Song.” (Weill did not write “Sing Out”; its music was by Franz Steininger, with lyrics by Forman Brown.)

The original play (and its radio adaptation) featured as narrator the author Washington Irving, who actually had been a newspaper correspondent early in his career. However, journalism wasn’t exactly a theme of the story, although government corruption and free speech were. In its introduction, Irving was composing a fictionalized history of New Amsterdam and describing the characters he would create to tell the tale.

That older version of “Knickerbocker Holiday” is available as a 1945 Theater Guild on the Air broadcast — available here as a 13.4MB MP3 from the series collection at Archive.org. The original 1938 yarn by Maxwell Anderson also had an anti-Roosevelt or anti-big-government moral, continued gently in the radio broadcast: “Let’s keep the government small, and funny.”

The movie musical dropped Irving as the writer/narrator character and made his creation Brom Broeck a pamphleteer/journalist troublemaker. In the original, he was just a troublemaking prototypical American — a man who couldn’t take orders.

In any case, Broeck sure gets a crowd of Quakers singing along… and in the end, he gets the girl, even if the older man gets the bigger hit song (and, for a doubly happy ending — at least in the radio version — the old gent does get another girl, or two).

mild-mannered reporter who fell deeper into computers and the Web during three trips through graduate school in the 1980s and 1990s, then began teaching journalism, media studies and Web production, most recently as a faculty member at Radford University.

Posted in film, j-heroes, Journalism, Multimedia, oldtime radio, podcast, popular culture, radio, Video

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