BLUE HILL — Noel Paul Stookey has the kind of protest roots that today’s young activists can only dream of, born out of the youth-inspired movement of the 1960s. Stookey, of course, is part of the iconic folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary, a name synonymous with American folk music. In recent years, Stookey has connected with young and activist musicians across the country, continuing his si
x-plus decades of social commentary through music.
With an optimism that radiates as widely as his smile Stookey’s latest project is “Hope Rises,” a compilation of songs written and performed by 15 musicians far younger than he but who embody a similar spirit. The album was issued from Stookey’s Vermont-based nonprofit organization Music to Life and moves far beyond folk music.
“When people say, where are the protest songs, they still think of Bob Dylan and harmonica and a guitar, but the current wave of expression and concern is available in all forms of music,” Stookey shared in a recent interview with The American.
While the opening track’s hard-driving electric guitar intro may raise a few folk purist eyebrows, the 15 songs do include acoustic guitar-and-voice, alongside rap and other musical genres in a nod to the diversity of musical styles played today. The artists range from Los Angeles-based hip-hop rapper Jason Chu and Texas country/folk singer George Ensle to folk Americana duo Brian Claflin and Ellie Grace and Rising Appalachia duo and sisters Leah and Chloe Smith.
They confront societal issues such as poverty, racial injustice and climate change.
“The rappers, and the confrontational aspect of the music, I think has an importance of its own,” Stookey said. “Because it’s meant to wake you up, meant to wake up a citizenry, partly in the area of Black Lives Matter.”
The featured artists come from all corners of the nation, They were picked by a seven-member panel including Eliza Gilkyson, Janis Ian, Kathy Mattea, Deidre McCalla, Tom Paxton, SaulPaul and Peter Yarrow. The judges kept this question in mind: Where has the protest music gone? “These artists are aware of the legacy and the responsibility to speak musically about the things that concern them,” Stookey said.
“The response has been strong,” he added. “No matter what style of music you listen to, you’ll find one on this album.”
The seeds for “Hope Rises” were planted in the late 1990s “in terms of raising up a roster of socially conscious musicians,” he continued. That effort led Music to Life sponsoring a decade of singer/songwriter contests at the Kerrville Folk Festival, an 18-day extravanganza in Texas, with Stookey’s organization underwriting an album of the winners’ songs.
Stookey charted how a folk performer, singing about a cause “at a rubber chicken benefit dinner,” evolves into a “musician coming into the community to work.”
“At some point my daughter Liz understood that in contemporary music, many [performers] had a calling that would place them into the center of the work that needs to be done, rather than just making musical comments,” Stookey said. Enter the Music To Life’s Accelerator Program, which provides emerging activist artists with monthly stipends as an “avenue to express their songs and connecting them with nonprofits in their communities.”
Stookey circles Music To Life, the Accelerator Program and his decades of marrying music and social protest back to a spiritual change he went through in the 1960s.
“[The protest movement] was kind of a long answer to a quest to connect my heart and soul to the reason to be political,” he said. “There seemed to be people all around me who just understood that was the way to be. I didn’t have that authenticity until I discovered there was this thing called love, with a capital L.”
“It changed my songwriting incredibly and it also provided that kind of constant encouragement of hope that I have for humankind and offered the solution to obstacles and challenges that we face in our life, even though the lyrics may manifest politically,” he said. “We are part of a much larger network of love than we realize. The constant challenge is to recognize that and therefor be compassionate to one another, kind to one another. That’s what keeps me going.”
“Hope Rises” is available at musictolife.org and on Amazon.