Is Change Gonna Come?

As discussed in this blog a few weeks ago, Gerald Marks was a musical genius who applied his art to the service of a cause – his love Edna Berger, first of all, but also to Edna’s mission to give creative people in the news business a seat at the table to negotiate with the boss. She was the first woman to lead The Newspaper Guild’s organizing, as the senior field representative. She was relentless, and he loved that about her.

Gerald bequeathed much of his estate, literally “All of Me” and other pop royalties from Tin Pan Alley on, to broaden a scholarship fund for young women created by Edna’s close friends and acolytes, which has grown into the Berger-Marks Foundation. In November, the foundation awarded, in Edna’s name, cash grants to young women of distinction, who are leading the movement for social and economic justice.

It was the second Edna award, and a credit to Gerald’s generosity and Edna’s passion. He put his money where his heart was, creating a fund to do good deeds, to help encourage a new generation of women who care about social justice, and to lead others to care. Like Veronica Avila, who won the 2012 Edna because of her work organizing restaurant workers in Chicago, helping them rise out of poverty.

I was reminded of the power of music again this week on a couple of accounts, including the “Robin Hood” concert for Hurricane Sandy victims in New York City, an amazing outpouring of love and affection for a city and a region, including the Jersey Shore, that has nourished a generation of artists.

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Bruce Springsteen and Jon BonJovi celebrate “La Causa,” to revive the Jersey Shore.

Jersey boys Bruce Springsteen and Jon BonJovi kicked off the concert, followed by legend after legend: Billy Joel conjuring up the “New York State of Mind,” Roger Watters invoking Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” with Eddy Vedder, Paul McCartney reviving Nirvana, Alicia Keyes and Kanye West, Chris Martin of Coldplay backing up Michael Stitt of REM, the Who rocking the house, Daltry shirtless again, Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones prancing around a “crossfire hurricane” like they weren’t really 69, going on 70.

As someone said, it was like my iPod was playing the concert. Here were many of my favorite artists playing their hearts out, with this perpetual offer of the gift of music, this act of love for New Yorkers who are suffering. Here, take out music, please. Please donate. We’re giving our music back to you.

From the sublime to the ridiculous: the other experience. I’m dealing with a corporation that controls the assets of the estate of a musical artist, and the agents of this corporation have made clear to me that generosity and love do not rule the music business, Gerald Marks notwithstanding. To have our music embrace you and your cause, you must deal with a breed of mendacious executors of musical legacy who insert their own values into the process.

This is ABKCO, the keepers of the flame of “A Change is Gonna Come,” Sam Cooke’s remarkable paean to the spirit of a people rising, which has been adopted as an anthem for the civil rights movement and other campaigns to set people free. Few hymns lay bare the human struggle more than this:

ABKCO kept the song bottled up for three decades in a legal fight with RCA Records, which also had a claim based on its earlier recordings. Even the producers of Malcolm X were prohibited from including the song on the 1992 movie sound track, although it still played during the movie.

ABKCO is a musical publishing company founded by Allen Klein, the former manager of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones who proved to be a litigious suitor of their musical legacy. The company has demonstrated that it will go to court at the drop of a hat, and apparently there is no lack of hats at ABKCO.

Thus, I should not have been surprised when ABKCO rejected our request to use “A Change is Gonna Come” as a rally point for agents at American Airlines, who finally have a chance to vote for representation by the Communications Workers of America after the company tied them up for nearly a year with administrative foot-dragging and a frivolous suit pushed all the way to the Supreme Court.

Some people in this Internet age of “free stuff” would not ask, of course, but unions have always defended intellectual property – many great musicians, writers and dramatic artists have defended the rights to their work through their unions, from the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) to Actors Equity to the Screen Actors Guild to the American Guild of Musical Artists, and many others. The National Writers Union, and its formative president Jonathan Tasini, sued the New York Times to ensure that freelance writers were paid for their work that the Times posted on the Internet.

Gerald Marks secured his legacy not only with his songbook, but also as a longtime board member for the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), which licenses the use of music for members. I had hoped that I could go through ASCAP to inspire our agents with “A Change is Gonna Come,” but ABKCO has secured the rights through many years of litigation.

I wonder what Sam Cooke would think about how a song he wrote to inspire – there were few such gospel-tinged songs in pop music when he wrote it in 1963 – has been bottled up by a publishing company whose main mission is apparently to keep a stable of lawyers in alligator shoes.

Sam Cooke’s daughter, Linda Cooke, now known as Zeriiya Zekkariyas, has sued the company to receive more than what the company says is the $650,000 she has gotten over the past 48 years since her father’s death. In her suit, she states, the company has showed “no consideration, for Sam Cooke’s background, as a spiritual singer, and that his Master Recordings should be available, to those asking to use his works, to support statements, of progress, for people of his own nature, and purpose.”

I think Sam Cooke would have looked favorably on the struggle of American Airlines agents to gain a voice at work, at a time when they are being laid off and outsourced, and their jobs diminished by a company that is shredding their rights under cover of bankruptcy.  But the number crunchers are in control, and “people of his own nature, and purpose” can be pushed aside.

Reminder: Martin Luther King was in Memphis to support the right of sanitation workers to join a union when he was gunned down – surely the act that galvanized the civil rights movement and the sentiment expressed so well in Sam Cooke’s song. The right to be represented at work should be a basic civil right, as it is in many countries around the world.

Few promoters or record company executives were as reviled as Klein, who died in 2009. He was clearly a shrewd businessman who managed to gain the rights to a lot of music he did not create. And I’m sure those millions of dollars he hoarded from buying and selling the rights to music probably helped to muffle the sharp words of John Lennon in his kiss-off to Klein in “Steel and Glass” in 1974:

That’s an indictment of Klein and the class of entrepreneur who would exploit the power of music for personal gain. The Robin Hood concert for Hurricane Sandy victims confirms what we know is true in our hearts – music is for us all. What these artists give to us is really invaluable. It transcends the petty deal-making and profit-taking.

Can we get an app for that?

Love and Justice

This is a love story for the ages, and a legacy of love that keeps on giving to a new generation, and more to come.

Edna Berger was a tough-talking receptionist/secretary at the Philadelphia Inquirer who was determined to rise above that station, where so many intelligent women were consigned in the 1940s, and many years thereafter.

Gerald Marks was a poor boy from Saginaw, Mich., whose musical talent led him to Tin Pan Alley, and a song catalog of 200 compositions, including the jazz standard, “All of Me,” which he wrote with Seymour Simons.

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Edna Berger and Gerald Marks, so in love.

Berger found her voice in The Newspaper Guild (TNG), becoming a reporter and union activist before joining the Guild as an International Representative and the first woman organizer in the male-dominated profession.

Marks composed music for Shirley Temple and Al Jolson and befriended Lena Horne and Carl Sandberg, who wanted to learn how to turn his poems into songs. Berger, 15 years younger but so wise to the world, was his one true love.

They got married by proxy, since Berger was in jail for one of her periodic bouts of hell-raising, which were required in those days of union organizing against the establishment and its paid constabulary. A friend stood in for her and said the requisite “I Do’s.”

He continued writing songs and serving on the board of ASCAP for a decade, and she continued bringing in new members of the Newspaper Guild, organizing the Baltimore Sun papers, El Mundo and others, signing up Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post and building a legacy of white-collar unionism among the newspaper elite while also mentoring a generation of journalists.

Among those she mentored was Louise Walsh, who describes herself as “a playmate, colleague and co-conspirator.” Walsh met Berger in 1973 when she was moving from United Press International to the Wire Services Guild, which had its offices in the same building as TNG in New York City.

Walsh recalled that Berger “used her special talent for creative obscenity to terrify certain publishers who thought they could terrorize their workforce and get away with it. “

“When she retired from The Newspaper Guild, her tributes recognized her lifetime of mentoring and her quiet financial support of people she met on union organizing campaigns, people who were suffering and who needed a hand-up,” Walsh said. “She was a true champion for social justice, an outstanding union organizer.”

When Berger died in 1996, Walsh and a group of women influenced by her during their careers – including Linda Foley, then president of The Newspaper Guild – created a scholarship fund as a lasting tribute to their mentor.

Marks, then in his 90s, was so touched by the show of affection for his wife that he bequeathed his estate to what became the Berger-Marks Foundation – including the royalties from his song catalog. Given that “All of Me” has been recorded more than 2,000 times since he wrote it in 1931, the foundation has been able to fund hundreds of women union organizers and other worthy projects.

In 2011, the Berger-Marks Foundation created the Edna Award, with a $10,000 cash stipend, to go to women 35 years and younger who are already leading the fight for social justice in their communities.

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Veronica Avila, the mover and shaker behind Chicago’s Restaurant Opportunities Center.

This year’s winner, Veronica Avila, is the daughter of a working-class immigrant family in Chicago who went to college and then returned to her neighborhood to help organize restaurant workers – first with Local 1 of UNITE HERE and then building the Chicago chapter of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers, an organization that was created in New York City after the 9/11 attack to help survivors of the Windows on the World restaurant at the World Trade Center.

Thanking the foundation and its supporters at the National Press Club in Washington Nov. 14, Avila said the award encourages her to recommit her efforts to help restaurant workers in Chicago, where she is spearheading a campaign against the anti-union Darden Group (Red Lobster, Olive Garden, The Capital Grille) and to end the “tip penalty” in Illinois, so that restaurant owners have to pay a fair wage and workers are not dependent on tips to survive.

Three other young women received $1,000 “Awards of Note” and six other finalists were commended for their work in helping lead the fight for social justice in our nation. You can see a video of the awards program here, with Louise Walsh opening the program with a remembrance of Edna Berger and Gerald Marks:

At the end of the program, after Foundation President Linda Foley had thanked the judges and others who helped put the program together, Avila interrupted her to remind her not to forget to thank the wait staff.

Edna would have been so proud!

And so would Gerald Marks, to see the living treasure being created from his estate in memory of the love of his life. It promises to go on and on, much like this song, sung here by the incomparable Ella Fitzgerald: