Paul Robeson recorded “Joe Hill”, an anthem of the wrongly accused, in 1942.
Joe Hill was a Swedish immigrant, itinerant worker, songwriter and union activist. Many believe his involvement with the Industrialized Workers of the World led to his framing for murder in 1914 Utah. Evidence supporting Hill’s innocence elicited clemency efforts from the union, human rights advocate Helen Keller, and even then-President Woodrow Wilson.
But to no avail. Hill was executed by firing squad on November 19, 1915. Defiant to the end, his reported last word was…”Fire!”
Singer and actor Paul Robeson was well known for his own activist ties at home and abroad, particularly by Senator Joseph McCarthy. As with many artists of the time, he was blacklisted. His passport was revoked in 1950, all but ending his performing career.