For more than 30 years, Holly Near has used her music to inspire social change. She has sung on picket lines, in prisons, and at Carnegie Hall. She has worked with the United Farm Workers, Central and Latin American solidarity groups, labor unions, women's groups, antiracist organizations, gay and lesbian rights organizations, disability rights educators, and environmental groups. She was one of the first artists to use her political beliefs to form her own record company, and her independence has cost her access to the mass media. Instead, she inspires change community by community.
It was happening again. Holly Near had begun her concert protesting the Vietnam War, when authorities declared a bomb threat and ordered audience members and musicians to clear the room. Holly stayed. The "threats" had happened so often that she knew them for what they were: a right-wing tactic to stop war protests. Over the years, the scene would be repeated in different ways and in different places. In El Salvador, Holly was part of a music festival devoted to opposing death squads. When soldiers pointed machine guns at the artists and told them that they could not perform, Holly stayed. And she sang. Born in rural California, Holly has been singing since she was a small child. In the late 1960s she was drawn into the antiwar movement and began to use her voice to inspire social change. She started working professionally in 1971, and her first international work was with the Free The Army group, entertaining and supporting active soldiers who resisted war and racism. When Holly tried to get a record contract in the early 1970s, she was encouraged to change her lyrics. Rather than do so, she became one of the first artists to use her political beliefs to start her own record company. Holly used her company, Redwood Records, to produce other cultural artists. She coordinated the first Sweet Honey in the Rock tour in California and recorded their first album on her label. She also brought many international artists to the USA who sang in support of solidarity, including Inti Illimani, the acclaimed Chilean ensemble. Holly's songs are anthems of hope and critical thinking, calling on the audience to rise up to their best selves. She was one of the first artists to include an American Sign Language interpreter at her concerts, and her inclusion transformed hundreds of people into advocates for disability rights and services.