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Sanders' 1987 Recording Of Protest Songs Back In Circulation

Bernie Sanders' 1987 recording, "We Shall Overcome," is finding a new audience after the senator's announcement of his candidacy for president.
Taylor Dobbs
/
VPR
Bernie Sanders' 1987 recording, "We Shall Overcome," is finding a new audience after the senator's announcement of his candidacy for president.

A 1987 recording made by then Burlington mayor Bernie Sanders is finding a new audience thanks to Sen. Sanders’ presidential aspirations.   

28 years ago, Burlington studio owner and producer Todd Lockwood posted a letter to Sanders at city hall proposing the album.

Lockwood says originally he thought the mayor would sing.

“I didn’t know what his capabilities were until we got him in the studio to do some rehearsal stuff,” he recalls. “In the first half an hour it became quite clear that Bernie is not going to be singing.”

Lockwood assembled a crew of Vermont musicians to back him as Sanders spoke the lyrics to five classic movement songs – and added his own commentary.

Lockwood says the recording, titled We Shall Overcome, was released on cassette and sold about 1,000 copies before sales ground to a halt after a few months.  

Then late last year, the weekly newspaper Seven Days wrote a blog piece about the recording. It came at a time when Sanders profile was heightened by talk of a possible candidacy.  

Lockwood arranged to have CDs made of the recording and made it available for downloading. 

Then came the official announcement that Sanders would seek the presidency.

“The phone has been ringing off the hook here since he announced. Once the networks realized this recording existed it had the makings of a great story for them,” says Lockwood.

ABC News used the recording in an interview with Sanders last week.

Lockwood says it’s too early to tell if the media attention will translate into major sales, but 28 years after its release, the recording is moving faster than ever; an estimated several dozen CDs and downloads daily.

Sanders receives a royalty for each sale.

Lockwood knows the recording could be used to mock the Vermont senator, but he doesn’t think most people will see it that way. “Anyone with half a heart listening to this thing, even if they don’t agree with Bernie’s politics, they would have to say that this is from the heart, this is a real guy singing what he believes,” he says.

That may be true, but so far Sanders has declined all requests for impromptu performances.

Copyright 2015 Vermont Public Radio

Steve has been with VPR since 1994, first serving as host of VPR’s public affairs program and then as a reporter, based in Central Vermont. Many VPR listeners recognize Steve for his special reports from Iran, providing a glimpse of this country that is usually hidden from the rest of the world. Prior to working with VPR, Steve served as program director for WNCS for 17 years, and also worked as news director for WCVR in Randolph. A graduate of Northern Arizona University, Steve also worked for stations in Phoenix and Tucson before moving to Vermont in 1972. Steve has been honored multiple times with national and regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for his VPR reporting, including a 2011 win for best documentary for his report, Afghanistan's Other War.

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