Radio Diaries: Ballad for Americans
November 7, 2016 7:34 AM - Subscribe

In 1940, FDR squared off against Wendell Willkie. And during the campaign, the Republican, Democrat, and even the Communist parties all managed to agree on one thing: A song.

It was an unlikely hit: an operatic folk cantata, sung by a black man, that ran over 10 minutes. “Ballad for Americans,” with music by Earl Robinson and lyrics by John LaTouche, had its radio debut on November 5, 1939. The live studio audience applauded for 20 minutes straight. (If you’re curious to hear exactly what they heard, here’s a link to the original broadcast in its entirety, produced by legendary broadcaster Norman Corwin.) So what was it about this quirky song that made it so popular?
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