History of Rise Up Singing
Peter was a counselor at Tamarack Farm (a summer camp for teenagers in Vermont) in 1973. The camp did a lot of group singing but the camp songbook didn't include any of the songs campers wanted to sing: songs that were popularized by the Beatles, Peter Paul & Mary, Dylan, Joan Baez, Pete Seeger. A group of campers met together all summer working on creating a new songbook. The group chose a lot of songs they wanted to include and grouped them into easy to remember chapters like "Sea Songs", "Spirituals", and "Freedom". The idea was to include lyrics and chords but no music. It was a bigger job than could be finished in one summer!
Peter kept working on the book. With the help of a lot of friends involved in the Movement for New Society in West Philadelphia, a songbook called Winds of the People was finally published informally in 1979. It was an "underground book" because not all the song were fully licensed. The book wasn't sold in stores but it ended up selling 30,000 copies by word of mouth and out of people's homes across the country.
Peter and Annie became a couple in 1981 and we began leading sings together using Winds of the People. We wanted to "make the book legal". We approached Sing Out, a non-profit folk music organization founded by Pete Seeger in 1950. Pete and his wife Toshi were on the board of directors. We approached the board and asked them if they would help us put out a new book. Pete and Toshi spoke eloquently in support of the proposal, saying "This is just why we created Sing Out Magazine - to encourage ordinary people to sing with each other".
We got together a selection team consisting mainly of songleaders. We spent a number of weekends together singing songs to try them out for inclusion in the book. Our criteria were to include songs that were relatively easy to sing and play by the lay musician, that lent themselves to singing in groups, that were not too obscure, and that had an emphasis on empowering songs with a positive message of hope and aspirations for a better world.
This was still before the internet era so lyrics had to be painstakingly written down off albums in WXPN's huge folk music library or copied out of songbooks at the Library of Congress. It took Peter two full years of work writing to and calling copyright holders. Pete's manager Harold Leventhal was enormously helpful in getting big music publishers like Warner Brothers and Hal Leonard to agree to license their songs. Mark Moss, Sing Out's editor and executive director worked tirelessly on getting the book typeset in very early publishing software and providing oversight of the project in a myriad of ways.
Kore Loy McWhirter came and spent two months in our home in Glen Mills, PA, helping Annie illustrate and layout the book. Her amazing illustrations are a huge contribution to the home-made feel of the book. Sam Hinton wrote out by hand all of the song titles in the book.
Rise Up Singing was published by Sing Out in August of 1988. Without the benefit of any kind of commercial promotion or publicity the book caught on like wildfire. People loved having the ability to carry around the words to so many of their favorite songs in one small book. We had no idea that it would end up selling around a million copies over the next 25 years