Emma’s Revolution is a dynamic duo. Pat Humphries and Sandy O are award-winning peace activist musicians. It’s impossible to separate the two; their music and their ability to educate and inform people about pressing issues of our day is simply remarkable. Once you’ve seen them, you’ll never be able to forget their heavenly harmonies, powerful lyrics and inspiring interaction with the audience.
Emma’s Revolution will be performing at benefit concert at the Unitarian-Universalist Church of Marblehead on Saturday, November 7.
Your group is named after Emma Goldman. Can you tell us what it was about Emma that convinced you to name yourselves after her?
PAT: We are named for Emma Goldman (1869-1940), who came to the United States from Lithuania and was a fierce defender of the right of free speech, the rights of workers and the rights of women. There are many great stories about Emma but the one she’s best known for is this: One night, Emma Goldman was, if you can imagine, dancing at a party. When one of her young colleagues chastised her for behavior un-becoming a woman of her stature, Emma put her passion and eloquence to work, replying, in essence, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.” We thought, that’s the revolution for us.
We love that spirit. While it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the bad news, we feel that it’s our responsibility as progressive artists to tell the important stories and still leave people with a sense of hope and the energy that’s required to make a better world for everybody.
How long have the two of you been singing together?
SANDY: I met Pat through her song, “Swimming to the Other Side.” As I always say, I’m not sure if I was more drawn to the beautiful song or to the cute little postage-stamped sized photo of her on the cassette cover! So I invited her to come on a tour I was organizing of women folksingers to women’s colleges for women’s history month. We sang together on and off for the next 8 years, before getting together as a couple in 2001. We have been performing, singing and writing together ever since.
Your songs are wonderful calls to action; songs that inspire and move many people and you’ve played before a vast number of people. Can you tell us about some of the most memorable occasions where you have been asked to sing?
SANDY: Thank you for those kind words. We have played at many memorable occasions here in the US, from singing to a crowd of a half million at an anti-war demonstration in Washington DC to singing at the first peace rally in a small military town in Delaware. And we’ve had the honor and pleasure of performing many times with Pete Seeger, most recently at historic Riverside Church in NYC. One very memorable performance outside of the US was when Pat and I sang in South Korea. We had been asked to come sing Pat’s song, “We Are One”, at an international event called the World Culture Open in Seoul, but we were also part of a delegation to a peace conference that week. One of the first events of the peace delegation was a ceremony a couple hours north of Seoul to mark the ritual rejoining of the train tracks between North and South Korea. Hundreds of South Koreans and internationals gathered in this desolate place, right next to the barbed wire fencing that marked the border of the DeMilitarized Zone that has continued to separate these countries for more than 50 years. We had had the song translated and the phrases of the song have enough space that Pat could sing a line and the translator could then read the words in Korean. We sang the central, repeating phrase, “we are one” in Korean, “urinin hana.” It was raining that afternoon, but we all had tears in our eyes, too.
You’ve never shied away from writing controversial songs and perhaps your most most song that has raised some eyebrows is “Take Your Vagina to the RNC.” What kind of reaction did you get in Tampa? And I understand that you went to the DNC and had some dancing vaginas on stage. How was that received?
PAT: Sometimes you need the controversy to make the point. And sometimes the controversy is the point. When Representatives Lisa Brown and Barb Bynum were silenced in the Michigan House for saying the word “vagina” in response to oppressive legislation being pushed through by the Republican majority in that state, women took action. They wrote letters, demonstrated across the country and held a reading of Eve Ensler’s “Vagina Monologues” on the steps of the Michigan State Capitol to say “‘Vagina’. Can’t say it? Don’t legislate it.” Soon Ensler and the women’s activist group CodePINK were organizing an action to take that focus on women’s reproductive rights to the RNC. That’s how we got an email from our friends at CodePINK with the subject line: “Vagina songs?” I took them up on the offer and wrote the song. We couldn’t be with them in Tampa, so we sent the song and the CodePINKers, in their fabulous vagina costumes, sang it at many locations and demonstrations. We did perform the song at the Progressive Democrats of America’s conference at the DNC and the dancing vaginas joined us on stage. We’ve had a few negative comments, but the vast majority of responses have been positive and often exuberantly so. In fact, on Sunday night here in Colorado, an 84-year-old organizer of the Colorado State Democratic Party demanded that we play it at our concert!
Singing topical songs along with like-minded audiences must be thrilling. Do you think that we’ll ever reach a day when we no long have to protest?
SANDY: It’s always thrilling when folks get into the music and the message, but we don’t count on our audiences being like-minded. Pat even wrote a song about it! (Check out “Choir” on our website.) People come to our concerts by way of a wide range of avenues and we address a large range of issues in our concerts–from the environment to immigration, peace to LGBT and reproductive rights, love to war, etc.–so, there’s often something new for folks to consider. Likewise, people seem to really enjoy the variety of our songs and songwriting. With our vocal harmonies being the constant, we write and perform in a expansive range of styles–from folk to swing to funk. Whatever style and sound serves the song and the message.
PAT: A sign of a healthy culture is the extent to which people feel empowered to participate in the democratic process. We see that process as being everything from conversations across the dinner table to voting to demonstrating in the streets. We think of our music as being about real issues that shape the quality of all of our lives. I think it’s tempting for some people to lump this music into a category. What we experience from our audiences is that our music makes them think and feel, laugh and cry, respond to their lives and the world around them. People use our music to encourage them through hard times and to celebrate the milestones of their lives.
For more information about Emma’s Revolution, visit their website.