Joe Glazer, the singer-songwriter known as Labor’s Troubador, who played cowboy tunes on a $5.95 mail-order guitar as a boy in the Bronx, then sang songs of solidarity on picket lines and union halls and once on the White House lawn, died on Tuesday at his home in Chevy Chase, Md. He was 88.
Mr. Glazer, who called himself “an agitator for all good causes,” recorded more than 30 albums, wrote a book about labor music, recorded the songs of others and helped recruit a new generation of protest singers.
In 1950, Mr. Glazer and the Elm City Four were the first to record a version of the anthem of the civil rights movement, “We Shall Overcome,” according to many sources. His version of the song (originally a folk song and then a Baptist hymn before he helped popularize it as a labor union theme) began “I Will Overcome,” Mrs. Glazer said.
He joined the Kennedy administration in 1961 as a labor information officer for the United States Information Agency, partly because he admired its head, Edward R. Murrow. In addition to explaining America’s current events to foreigners, he was frequently sent to foreign countries to sing protest songs.
Mr. Glazer resigned from the agency after the inauguration of Ronald Reagan and soon began composing songs, like “Jellybean Blues,” satirizing the new president.
“Protest songs use humor, they tell about terrible conditions, but you still have to be able to laugh and sing and tell a joke,” he told The Times in 1981. “You know, that’s a very important thing — life goes on.”
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