Joe Hill's Last Will
The words and music of iconic labor activist/songwriter Joe Hill come to life in a new production of Hill’s fnal day in prison, before his untimely execution by Utah authorities at the turn of the last century. John McCutcheon’s performance as Hill is absolutely riveting ... Joe Hill is now a mostly forgotten fgure today, but his activist spirit lives on and his songs served to inspire generations that followed. Joe Hill’s Last Will succeeds in keeping his memory alive for future generations to come — highly recommended!”
— JoAnn Mar, radio producer/journalist, KALW in San Francisco
The scene is a cell in the Utah State Prison, November 19, 1915, 4:00 a.m. Joe Hill, American Labor’s most iconic songwriter is awaiting execution at dawn and he’s got a story to tell. It’s the story of his life. But it’s also the story of the growth of the Labor Movement in early 20th century America. It’s a story of humor and love and injustice and courage. It’s the story of America.
Joe Hill was a Swedish immigrant to the United States who, like so many others, worked at a variety of trades, trying to make his way in his new country. But like no other, he was a musician, a writer, a man of wit and insight, who knew how to craft songs that informed, inspired, and infamed. He created a template for songwriting that was used by Woody Guthrie and by the Civil Rights Movement: taking well-known melodies and crafting new words that made the songs leap to life in a new and changing world.
Songwriter and labor historian, Si Kahn, created the play based largely on Hill’s own words and using all of Hill’s music. Never before has Joe Hill’s entire catalog been presented at once. And in the hands of multi-Grammy nominee and folk music legend, John McCutcheon, rarely have they had such expert treatment. McCutcheon’s tour-de-force acting, his rich
voice, and stellar instrumental skills present Joe Hill and his music as never before. The story takes the issues of labor,
immigration, workers’ rights, the death penalty, and war from the annals of 1915 to the headlines of 2014. It’s a story that
America has been wrestling with for 100 years now.
The production is spare and fexible. The scene is a simple jail cell, with a bed, a chair, and a window. From there, with a
compelling script, a handful of great songs, and a guitar, Joe Hill’s Last Will takes the audience on a wild, inspiring ride
through a world of change.
“Joe Hill’s Last Will is a new one-man show you won’t want to miss. John McCutcheon doesn’t just play Joe Hill ... he channels him. He welds his passion as a labor activist with great musical chops to create a Joe Hill who we want to follow through his loves, his disappointments and his triumphs. Tis unique show of stories and songs is perfect for a wide variety of public performances for folk music, labor history and general audiences.”
— Tom Juravich, Professor of Labor Studies and Sociology, UMass Amherst
“... John McCutcheon brings Joe Hill’s words and music to life anew. Utilizing a single, simple space, we are taken from a barely-furnished prison cell to the sites of some of America’s great labor struggles to the execution yard of the Utah State Prison in 1915. McCutcheon’s musical prowess is formidable, breathing life into songs that hardly seem 100 years old. Few artists could bring the skill and power to these songs that McCutcheon does. The audience was entranced from the frst words to the fnal, dramatic conclusion. The entire production is a theater producer’s dream.”
— Elizabeth Craven, Founder and Artistic Director, Main Stage West, Sebastopol, California
“Hill was a prolifc songwriter before his execution in Utah in 1915 and McCutcheon does them all ... one song after another seemed to ring home today as we battle for workers rights again with collective bargaining coverage in the private sector at 7%, about the same as Hill’s day. Te parallels of Hill as a Swedish immi-grant in a movement of European immigrants and today’s Latino, African and Asian immigrant leaders also reminds the audience of how much is yet to change.”
— Larry Cohen, President, Communications Workers of America
Joe Hill’s Last Will
Workshops, Master Classes, and Residency Activities
Will Play for Change: Joe Hill’s Legacy
The genius of Joe Hill was his ability to take complex issues and distill them down to informative, rousing songs, to educate and motivate at once. He understood that people will go only so far on what they know; they must also be motivated by what they feel. They must also feel as though they are part of something greater than them-selves. Humor, satire, anthemic singalongs — Hill provided a template later used by Woody Guthrie, the Civil Rights Movement, and more. This workshop explores both the historical and contemporary uses of art and music in social movements. More than simply a survey, however, participants will have a chance to try their hand in “how to” sessions.
Mightier Than the Sword: Songwriting 101
Award-winning, 6-time Grammy nominee John McCutcheon offers an intimate look at the what, how, and why of songwriting. Offering both over-arching principles and hands-on practical tips, McCutcheon takes participants through exercises in collaboration, editing, arrangement, performance, and even his 15-minute kamikaze song-writing blitz. Especially unique is his approach to the “why” of songwriting, a discussion of art, connection, purpose, and community in a world that is at once globalized and isolating.
McCutcheon is a uniquely versatile writer, with 37 CDs to his credit. A 50-year student of American traditional music, he is a widely respected composer of one of the most diverse catalogs of any contemporary writer: a master of the historical ballad, children’s songs, topical satire, love songs, instrumental pieces, even symphonic works.