July 17, 2004 by

Sis Cunningham


Categories: Musicians, Writers/Editors

Agnes “Sis” Cunningham, a singer/songwriter who co-founded Broadside magazine, died on June 27. Cause of death was not released. She was 95.
Born in Watongo, Okla., Cunningham studied to become a teacher at Commonwealth College. There she wrote the song, “How Can You Keep on Movin’ Unless You Migrate Too?” which became a popular tune in Woody Guthrie’s library of “Dustbowl Ballads.”
Considered a rabble-rouser for mixing music with politics, Cunningham married Communist George Friesen in 1941 and left the Deep South. When World War II ended, they struggled to find work after being blacklisted for their political beliefs. The couple then moved to New York City to live in the communal Almanac House in Greenwich Village. Some of their roommates and guests included Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Phil Ochs and Nina Simone. Cunningham also joined the Almanac Singers as an accordion and guitar player, and toured with Guthrie for several years.
Cunningham and Friesen launched Broadside, a mimeographed journal, in 1962. Touted as a “national topical song magazine,” Broadside published more than 1,000 protest songs, ballads and opinion pieces from numerous folk artists during its 26-year print run. Some of Bob Dylan’s earliest songs were recorded in the couple’s living room.
In 2000, songs from the magazine were collected into a five-CD box set called “The Best of Broadside, 1962-1988.” The collection received Grammy nominations for best historical album and best liner notes. Cunningham spent the final years of her life writing her memoirs with Friesen, who died in 1996. “Red Dust and Broadsides,” was published three years later.
Listen to a Tribute From NPR

2 Responses to Sis Cunningham

  1. Psychic Cowboy

    I interviewed Sis in 1990 for a Phil Ochs radio Show,,She was very helpful and turned me on to a lot of great people..We disscuss Woodie Guthrie,Jim Glover,Sammy Walker ,Bob Dylan to name a few,,Her honesty was truly refreshing,,,She was quite the storyteller and I felt a true spiritual connection,,She and Arthur were responsible for a lot of “FOLKIES” first recordings and discussions about many topical issues of the times,,And I can tell you true ,,She wasn’t in it for the Money,,It was in her heart to see that all people lived free,,,I am sure the dues she paid in her life would kill any of us,,Fortitude and the will to make a change for the better I believe is the reason she lived as long as she did,,Her love for the “OLD DAYS ” was ever present,,She spoke with great respect of the Trubadors of Peace..I was heartbroken at her passing but realze we are all not long in this world,,And must try to make it more peacefull for those who must remain..The world lost an Angel when she left,,WE can only hope for incarnation, as it would be wonderful to have that spirit in flesh,,,to continue..Not many people in this day have the Guts to stand up for human dignity as she did,,I will miss you Sis,,Thank you for all you have done in the name of peace,,and let me apoligize for any resistance you may have suffered,,although it could have never stopped you,,The world needs more people like you ,,I only hope that your almost 100 years will reap the seeds of justice for another 100…Rest in peace my friend,,,Dylan Martel The Psychic Cowboy.

  2. Patrick Murphy

    In 1985, along with singer/songwriter Sammy Walker, I shot hours of interview footage of Sis and Gordon. I was touched by what a wonderful “Gentleman” Gordon was, and what a dynamic ball of energy Sis was.
    They were always my heros…and remained to be.
    The documentary was never completed because I moved to a PBS station in Florida and then Denver. Now back in New York, I still carry these hours of tape hoping that the documentary will be completed.
    They were such a large slice of history and shaped so many lives.
    I watch the tapes quite abit, and always realize what true gems they were.
    I miss them and I thank Sammy for opening the door for me.

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