Remembering: Anne Feeney

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She carried a business card that read: “Performer, Producer, Hellraiser.” And that is who Anne Feeney was throughout her time as a traveling troubadour on behalf of social justice. Born July 1, 1951 just outside of Pittsburgh into an Irish-American family with a long tradition of union activism, she bought a Martin guitar in high school in 1967 and made her first public appearance singing Phil Ochs songs at an anti-war rally in 1969. Three years later she was arrested at the Republican National Convention protesting the nomination of Richard Nixon. After earning a law degree from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law in 1978, she worked twelve years as a trial lawyer, and continued to perform in local venues in her spare time. During this same period she co-founded Pittsburgh Action Against Rape and was president of the local National Organization for Women (NOW) chapter.

In 1991 she gave up her law practice to hit the road, and up until a second episode of lung cancer brought her touring to a close in 2015, she spent 200 to 300 days a year performing at folk festivals, fairs and concert halls across the US and Europe, on stages shared by the likes of Pete Seeger, Loretta Lynn, John Prine and the Indigo Girls. But her most favored performance arena was within the labor movement. She regularly tracked labor strikes across the country, often showing up on picket lines to encourage the strikers with feisty solidarity anthems or volunteering to provide entertainment at fundraising benefits and rallies. She was also among the musicians who performed at the World Trade Organization demonstrations in Seattle.

Over her career she released twelve albums. Perhaps her most famous original song was “Have You Been to Jail for Justice?” The song was eventually recorded by Peter, Paul and Mary. Other original songs of note were “I Married a Hero,” “Look to the Left” and “War on the Workers.” Her show also regularly included covers of “Dump the Bosses Off Your Backs,” “Solidarity Forever” and “The Internationale.”

In 2005 she received the Joe Hill Award from the Labor Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC.

Poster for Anne’s 2007 concert at UCIMC

Anne Feeney was also a familiar face in the Champaign-Urbana community, not least as a consequence of the heroic labor struggles that occurred in central Illinois over a three-year period in the 1990s. She appeared at local fundraisers in support of striking production workers at the Bridgestone/Firestone plant in Decatur and at Caterpillar plants in Decatur and East Peoria, as well as of locked-out corn processing workers at A. E. Staley, also in Decatur. Her visits to C-U were also often occasioned by her friendship with local resident and social justice activist, Jenny Barrett (also memorialized in this issue) and Jenny’s husband, Jim.

Like Claire Szoke (also memorialized in this issue), Anne was among the over 500,000 lives that have been lost in the US to COVID-19. Anne was in a nursing home in Pittsburgh for treatment of a back injury when she contracted the virus, and she died on February 3, 2021.

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