The Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues was first sung by textile workers in the early 1930’s in Winnsboro, South Carolina. These workers were responsible for turning raw cotton into the fabrics used for clothing, towels, and bed sheets. Business was very good at the beginning of the 20th century. Cotton fabrics were needed to supply our troops in World War I, and the cotton mills of the south were an important part of the “Roaring 20’s”, a decade of great wealth and prosperity in the United States.
But after World War I ended in 1918, the demand for cotton began to drop, and when the stock market crashed in 1929, many of the mills found themselves in trouble financially. They were no longer able to pay their workers well, and many workers lost their jobs altogether.Textile workers throughout the south became frustrated, disappointed that they were not being recognized or rewarded for their hard work. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “New Deal” policies allowed the workers to band together in unions, and this eventually led to the Textile Workers Strike of 1934. Despite their efforts, the strike was unsuccessful; employers were unable to meet the workers’ demands, and many were unable to return to work.
During these hard times, many workers expressed themselves in singing the blues. Pete Seeger, the great American folk singer, heard these songs and recorded them so that we remember the hardships suffered by those who helped build our country. As you perform the duet, listen for the machinery in the mills, the trains that carried the textiles across the country, and the song sung by the workers as they sought the recognition they deserved.