Cunningham, Agnes 1909-2004
CUNNINGHAM, Agnes 1909-2004
See index for CA sketch: Born February 19, 1909 in Watonga, OK; died June 27, 2004, in New Paltz, NY. Publisher, musician, and author. Along with her husband, Gordon Friesen, Cunningham edited and published the influential journal Broadside, which helped shape the folk music of the 1960s by publishing the works of such song writers as Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan. Growing up poor in Oklahoma, Cunningham learned to love music, playing the piano and the accordion, and sympathize with the plight of the downtrodden. She attended Oklahoma State College for Women, paying her tuition with the help of a teaching job she took on in 1928. After leaving school, she taught at Commonwealth College. Cunningham's concern for the plight of farmers, minorities, and other struggling people in America began when she was a child, witnessing the poor treatment of American Indians in Oklahoma; her outrage grew as she witnessed other injustices and was even fired from a Works Progress Administration (WPA) job because her supervisor did not like her fraternizing with blacks. She decided to abandon the workaday world and joined a traveling group of musicians called the Red Dust Players. Cunningham met Friesen while playing with the group, and they married and moved to Greenwich Village. Here they met folk singer Pete Seeger, with whom they formed the group the Almanac Singers, which also included Woody Guthrie and Josh White. During the 1950s, Cunningham and her husband suffered through poverty when Friesen was also blacklisted and could not find work. They finally hit upon the idea of publishing Broadside as a way to earn some income. The journal survived from 1962 until 1988, despite a very modest circulation. More importantly, however, it helped bring some of the era's most important folk and protest music to light, including songs such as Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind" and Phil Ochs's "I Ain't Marching Anymore," many of which were released on the fifteen albums that were produced by Folkways Records and later collected on CD as The Best of Broadside, 1962-1988: Anthems of the American Underground from the Pages of Broadside Magazine (2000). Cunningham also wrote a joint autobiography with her husband titled Red Dust and Broadsides: A Joint Autobiography (1999).
OBITUARIES AND OTHER SOURCES:
Los Angeles Times, July 1, 2004, p. B13.
New York Times, June 30, 2004, p. A21.
Times (London, England), July 1, 2004, p. 38.