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Remembering Guy Carawan, civil rights activist and folk singer

Guy and Candie Carawan, authors of Sing for Freedom. (Courtesy Patheos)

Civil rights activist and folk singer Guy Carawan died on May 3 after a long illness. Guy and his wife Candie co-authored Sing For Freedom: The Story of the Civil Rights Movement Through Its Songs, published by NewSouth Books in 2007.

Carawan was perhaps best known for introducing the song “We Shall Overcome” to the civil rights movement. In a tribute to the musician, National Public Radio featured excerpts from an archived story on the song. Carawan recalled learning the piece from a musician who performed it with guitar accompaniment. But when Carawan performed it with guitar for student activists, they had another idea:

“And then at a certain point, those young singers who knew a lot of a cappella styles – they said, lay that guitar down, boy. We can do the song better [laughter]. And they put that sort of triplet to it and sang it a cappella with all those harmonies. It had a way of rendering it – a style that some very powerful young singers got behind spread.”

ABC News spoke with Candie Carawan, who told them, “Guy very peacefully slipped away. When you know somebody is on their way, it was really the best way to go, and I was very grateful that was how it was.”

Guy Carawan’s legacy will continue through the Highlander Research and Education Center with which he was closely associated, and the song that continues to be performed 55 years after he taught it to young activists.

Sing For Freedom is available from NewSouth Books or your favorite bookstore.