Anne Feeney (1951-2021): Wherever there’s a fight, she’ll be there
Anne Feeney sings on stage in the rain in Mellon Square in Pittsburgh, Sept. 22, 2009, as she participates in a protest calling for healthcare reform before the G-20 Summit. | Carolyn Kaster / AP

In the film, The Grapes of Wrath, there is a famous scene at the end of the film. With the rain pouring and his Dust Bowl family hiding under a bridge, Tom Joad tells his mother that he is taking up the torch dropped by Casy, the social justice preacher. As Mother Joad wonders whether she’ll ever see her son again, Tom replies, “I’ll be everywhere—wherever you look. Wherever there’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there.”

Those words would be an appropriate epitaph for the recently passed artist, organizer, storyteller, promoter, straight talker, truth teller, and passionate Pittsburgh daughter and mom, Anne Feeney.

I got a bit annoyed when reading the New York Times just describe Anne as “a folk singer,” almost as though she was simply an entertainer. But as an artist, Anne was not just a singer of any old song; she captured the lives of “folk” like me. The Times does not tell the truth of our stories—regular working-class type folk with families, dreams, laughter, and dignity. Quiet as it is kept, we sing, dance, and love.

It is we—the folk who produce the food, mine the energy and raw materials for computers, tuck children into bed and calm their fears, make steel, teach reading, relieve suffering of sick and injured people, keep germs at bay, move the inbox to the outbox, deliver the packages, and do all the millions of jobs creating all the wealth (which we do not control)—it’s all of us who define the US of A. That is our truth, and Anne gave us a beautiful voice.

Anne did not mince words, nor did she suffer fools or phonies. The banks, hedge funds, and Wall Street are the bad guys, keeping us on the treadmill or, at worst, in the street. Truth telling is tough, but Anne’s music brought that to life and put it on the stage.

Although she described herself as a “recovering lawyer,” Anne’s honesty was forever front and center. In Pittsburgh, her generosity was legendary. She was not in it for the buck—maybe that was the “recovering” part. Whatever it took to get from A to B, especially for women struggling with woman life, where survival is a question, Anne was there to get people through. She was there for the tough, bad times.

So whenever things are looking dim, confused, amid a pandemic or unemployment or mounting rent, utility or medical bills, pop in an Anne Feeney CD or pull her up on your streaming service. Dance around the kitchen, sing out loud and strong. That is what Anne was about—joy and dignity.

Thank you, Anne. Who knows what your seeds will bring? We know whenever we’re in a fight, you’ll be there.

Honors for Anne’s life can be sent to:

Thomas Merton Center

5129 Penn Avenue

Pittsburgh, PA 15224


Denise Winebrenner Edwards
Denise Winebrenner Edwards

Denise Winebrenner Edwards is a long-time trade union and community activist. She lives in western Pennsylvania.