UW News

November 24, 2014

Mike Honey remembers singer John Handcox in ‘Smithsonian Folkways’ article

UW News

John Handcox, left, with the UW's Michael Honey in the 1980s.

John Handcox, left, with the UW’s Michael Honey in the 1980s.

University of Washington historian Michael Honey learned about folk singer and union organizer John Handcox through a mutual friend whose name might be familiar: Pete Seeger.

Honey tells of the 1985 meeting, and of “Sharecropper’s Troubadour,” the book he came to write about Handcox (with Seeger penning the foreword), in an article in Smithsonian Folkways Magazine. UW Today wrote about Honey’s book in January, 2014.

In 1940, Woody Guthrie joined Seeger and folklorist Alan Lomax in collecting Handcox’s work into their Depression-era songbook “Hard-Hitting Songs for Hard-Hit People.” It was not published until 1967, though, and by then many assumed Handcox had died. He reappeared in 1986, however.

Honey wrote, “Many of his songs were instantly recognized, thanks to the work Pete had done. (Then) in his eighties, John began a new career as a living legend much like some of the Deep South blues men who had reappeared in the 1960s after years of obscurity.

“John’s songs and poems inspired Southern labor and civil rights movements in the 1930s, long before those movements came of age. His works stand the test of time, and his story deserves to be widely known.” Handcox died in 1992.