Barbara Dane, unsung hero of American music, tells her story of song and struggle in a new book,
out fall 2022

Heyday to publish Dane’s vital and adventurous autobiography, This Bell Still Rings

PHOTO CREDIT: Mark Roth, Smithsonian Folkways

BERKELEY, CALIF—The autobiography of Barbara Dane—which tells the story of Dane’s trailblazing career as an influential and courageous singer-songwriter, activist, and American icon—will be published by Heyday in fall 2022, coinciding with the release of the documentary The Nine Lives of Barbara Dane, directed by Maureen Gosling.

“Looking back over all the years of raising my voice, raising my children, raising some eyebrows, and raising hell wherever possible, I have no regrets,” says Dane of her life’s work; “You have only one life to live, so make it count. And remember to sing!”

This Bell Still Rings: My Life of Defiance and Song (on-sale September 2022) tells the story of Dane’s trajectory from singing at union halls and factory gates in World War II–era Motor City to her ascendancy as a respected blues and jazz singer working with many of the greats from Louis Armstrong to Lightnin’ Hopkins; to her prominence as a folk musician frequently performing at and participating in civil rights and peace demonstrations in the U.S. and abroad. Alongside Joan Baez, Pete Seeger and others, Dane became a beloved figure at major anti-war and civil rights gatherings across the U.S. The activist singer toured internationally as well—including in revolutionary Cuba, Franco-era Spain (clandestinely), Vietnam, and elsewhere. In 1971, she cofounded the political label Paredon Records to celebrate and document a worldwide chorus of resistance and revolution. 

“The world needs more people like Barbara, someone who is willing to follow her conscience,” Bob Dylan once said of Dane; “She is, if the term must be used, a hero.”

According to a 2021 New York Times profile of the singer, Dane still keeps a copy of her FBI file in her Oakland home, and a new wave of recognition for her life of art and activism swells. In 2018 Smithsonian Folkways released a career-spanning retrospective of her music, Hot Jazz, Cool Blues & Hard-Hitting Songs. The following year, Heyday presented its Lifetime Achievement Award to Dane. 

“I have admired Barbara Dane ever since I was a teenager, having heard her sing at innumerable protest demonstrations in the Bay Area,” says Heyday Publisher Steve Wasserman, former editor of the Los Angeles Times Book Review. “And now, to become the midwife to the birth of her memoir, which offers a kind of literary soundtrack to a life well lived, is a privilege and an honor.”

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Barbara Dane has lived a life full of glowing superlatives […] one of the true unsung heroes of American music.

—James Reed, The Boston Globe

About Barbara Dane

Barbara Dane was born in Detroit in 1927, where as a teenager she discovered the power of her voice to move people to action. She performed singing at demonstrations for racial equality and economic justice and turned down an offer from a nationally popular swing band, choosing instead to sing at union functions, in the halls and on the picket lines. 

She moved to California in 1949 during the peak of McCarthyism where she grew to recognition as a blues, jazz, and folk singer. An early and frequent performer at the legendary Ash Grove in Los Angeles, Dane was inspired by both the musical genius and attitude of the great blues women of the 1920s, Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Ida Cox, and others. She made her first national television debut alongside Louis Armstrong, who invited her to perform with him upon hearing her at the 1958 Pasadena Jazz Festival: “Did you get that chick?” said Armstrong, “She’s a gasser!” 

By the early 1960s, Dane was touring the country, singing out for peace and social justice from the Mississippi Freedom Schools to the anti-war GI coffee houses as well as at major peace rallies in D.C. alongside Joan Baez, Phil Ochs, and Pete Seeger. In 1961 she opened her own San Francisco blues club, Sugar Hill, where she presented Jimmy Rushing, “Big Mama” Thornton, Mose Allison, “Mama” Yancey, and “T-Bone” Walker, among others.

Her music and her commitment to peace and justice took her far beyond the borders of the United States. She was the first American musician to tour post-revolutionary Cuba in defiance of the US travel ban, performed under the threat of American bombs in North Vietnam, and toured clandestinely in Franco’s Spain and Marcos’s Philippines. Her travels inspired her to found Paredon Records, one of the first record labels to focus on the music of anti-colonial and revolutionary movements happening around the world.

“I first met Barbara Dane when I was seventeen. She taught me that ‘Wild women don’t worry, wild women don’t get the blues.’ I tried my best to follow her advice.” 

Linda Ronstadt

“She’s always been a role model and a hero of mine—musically and politically. I mean, the arc of her life so informs mine that I really can’t think of anyone I admire more.”

Bonnie Raitt

Dane (now in her mid-nineties) has no regrets:

“Because I have chosen to live my life against the grain, loving our imperfect Constitution too much to believe in the tropes of professional patriots; because I reject the idea that any nation is ‘number one’; because I admit to either all gods or none; because my idea of being a woman does not include big hair and plastic tits, tight dresses and dangerous shoes; because I can’t bend low enough to kiss asses; because of all this and more, I’ve arrived at my old age with a clean conscience,” Dane told the New York Times.

This Bell Still Rings: My Life of Defiance and Song (September 2022) chronicles Dane’s journey against the grain, embodying in its pages the essence of her stage presence, once described by journalist J. Poet as “pure fun, a celebration of the human spirit accented by a bawdy feminist humor and a healthy sense of the absurd.”

“I deeply admire Barbara’s lifelong commitment to singing out and standing up for the causes of social justice, racial and gender equity, peace and international solidarity. Her proactive, transformative life makes her an important role model for us today, as well as for the coming generations.”

Danny Glover, executive producer of The Nine Lives of Barbara Dane (forthcoming, fall 2022)