Anne Feeney, a folk singer who collaborated with Pete Seeger, John Prine and Peter, Paul and Mary and an impassioned activist who fought for workers’ and women’s rights, died Wednesday in Pittsburgh of COVID-19 complications. She was 69.
“It is with a very heavy heart that we must announce the passing of our courageous, brilliant, beautiful mother,” her daughter, Amy Sue Berlin, wrote on Facebook. “We were very lucky that she fought hard enough to open up her eyes and give us a couple days to be with her before she finally decided it was time to let go.”
Starting in 1987, when she was inspired by folk singer and activist Faith Petric to quit her job as an attorney and dedicate her life to touring and making music in support of workers, Feeney played more than 4,000 shows across North America and Europe.
She performed for striking workers on picket lines, in union halls and at protests, including the one that shut down a World Trade Organization conference in Seattle in 1999 — she is seen in the 2000 documentary This Is What Democracy Looks Like — and another at the March for Women’s Lives held in 2004 at the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
Feeney’s 2000 anthem “Have You Been to Jail for Justice?,” sung on picket lines and in jail cells around the world, is considered one of the last true folk songs. She also gave life to classic union hymns like Woody Guthrie’s “Union Maid” and Joe Hill’s “Dump the Bosses Off Your Back.”
“Anne Feeney was a deeply committed songwriter/activist in the grand tradition of Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie,” Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary said in a statement. “She was joyous and fiery in her determination to use her music to elevate those who are most marginalized and to move toward greater justice in the land. For Annie, it was a way of life. Her song ‘Have You Been to Jail for Justice?, which our trio recorded, was an anthem for all of us who joined with Annie in ‘the good fight.'”
Guitarist Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine called her “a fearless and formidable force for justice and workers’ rights onstage, in the studio and on the picket line.”
Feeney organized dozens of tours supporting various causes, including the Sing Out for Single Payer Healthcare tour in 2009, and raised tens of thousands of dollars for strike funds and progressive causes. She also served as the first female president of a musicians’ union in the U.S.
Born on July 1, 1951, in Charleroi, Pennsylvania, and raised in the Brookline neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Feeney was influenced by her grandfather William Patrick Feeney, who was a first-generation Irish immigrant and violinist who used music to support working-class organizing.
Feeney performed publicly for the first time in 1969 when she sang a Phil Ochs song at a protest against the Vietnam War. In 1972, she was arrested at the Republican National Convention while objecting to Richard Nixon’s second nomination for president.
Feeney received a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Pittsburgh in 1974 and graduated from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law four years later. She practiced as a trial lawyer for 12 years, primarily representing refugees and survivors of domestic violence.
Inspired by the group that founded “Women Organized Against Rape” in Philadelphia, she began a campaign for a rape crisis center that evolved into Pittsburgh Action Against Rape, which still provides services to survivors of sexual assault. She also served on the executive board of the Pennsylvania chapter of the National Organization of Women and as the president of the Pittsburgh Musicians’ Union from 1981-97, the only woman to hold that position.
Feeney released 12 albums during her career and shared stages with Seeger, Prine, Loretta Lynn, Toshi Reagon, The Mammals, Dan Bern, Indigo Girls and Billy Bragg. A lover of Irish music, she led annual singing tours of Ireland and was a regular at Kerrville Folk Festival, Oregon Country Fair and other major festivals.
Survivors include her son, Dan. Donations in her name may be made to the Thomas Merton Center, a social justice activist hub in Pittsburgh.
This article was originally published by The Hollywood Reporter.