Judy Collins Brings the Beautiful “Dreamers,” and other Protest Songs

Performed a capella, it’s a hauntingly beautiful new American anthem

Judy Collins, long revered as one of America’s greatest singers, has been one of the great songwriter champions of all time. Her recordings of singular songs written by singular songwriters such as Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell, changing those songwriter’s lives forever. For in her life and in her work, she is an activist. She believes in taking action when it is necessary. In the tradition of Pete Seeger and Joan Baez, both of whom she has worked closely with for years, Judy always did more than the music. Unlike many musicians who write the songs and perform them, but leave the picketing and protesting to others, she’s always been vitally present in her fights for so many causes in America.

She took the dark inhumanity of America’s recent anti-immigrant efforts and turned it into a powerful song. As any songwriter who has tried to write a protest song knows, it is not easy to do well, as nobody wants to be preached to in song. How to express a serious message about social injustice without it sounding sanctimonious or worse is not easy to do.

In her beautiful “Dreamers,” she crystallizes the issue of illegal immigration, as it’s been named, both with the song and the performance, which is as essential as it can be – it is a capella. No instruments, just one voice, words and melody, an old soul of empathy, and that silvertone voice, rich with warm reverb. With these words and tune, it is chilling.

She follows the path that Woody Guthrie walked when writing about this same theme in his song “Deportees.” Instead of telling us about the situation, he becomes one of the characters going through the reality of wanting to belong to America only to be cast out, or imprisoned. He writes it in the first-person, so there is no distance between the topic and the singer.

She does the same thing here, writing in the first person as “Maria,” whose daughter is a dreamer, born and raised here in America, the child of immigrants.

I think people are yearning to hear something that gives the reality to a situation that is so frightening,” she said. “It puts a face on the story which, because of the headlines and the news cycles, becomes kind of lost in this 24-hour stream that we get all the time. We don’t see the individual people, and I think this does paint a portrait and makes it more accessible.”

You can hear “Dreamers” here. It is also included on the following playlist she compiled of the protest songs she considers the greatest and most essential. This includes a vast range of songs from songwriters including her friend and former beau Stephen Stills and his song “For What It’s Worth,” as well as songs by Pete Seeger, Neil Young. Sam Cooke, Billie Holiday, Green Day and Bob Dylan.

Videos by American Songwriter

Words and Music by Judy Collins

My name it is Maria,
my daughter is a dreamer,
she says that she is worried
that she will have to leave

When I was only twenty

I crossed the burning border,
I came to find a good life
and brought my daughter here
When I came to America
I hoped life would be better
for me and for my daughter,
and here I worked for you

I harvested the peaches
in northern California
and then in Colorado,
my family and me

This land was made by dreamers
and children of those dreamers.
We came here for democracy and hope,
now all we have is hope.

My husband is a good man,
he is no raping criminal,
his hands are rough and scarred now
from digging in the earth

My daughter loves her father,
and he was always gentle,
he too came from Jalisco
to find what freedom’s worth

But will you send her back now
to live in fear and terror?
She is our only daughter,
whose dreams have been our vow

We worked to pay our way here,
we gave our youth and promise,
and in return you force us
to go back to the wall

This land was made by dreamers
and chidren of those dreamers.
We came here for democracy and hope,
now all we have is hope.

My name it is Maria,
my daughter is a dreamer,
she says that she is worried
that she will have to leave

Copyright The Wildflower Company/ASCAP 2018

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