Textile exhibit opens with workers’ songs

Gerard Ortiz

Librarians are acknowledged to be keepers of tranquil. But, on Sept. 23 at 5:15 p.m., Caitlin Mathes and Bill Cowdery are hitting the piano keys and belting out songs to celebrate a new exhibit at the Sidney Cox Library of Audio and Dance at Cornell.

“Songs to Leave You in Stitches: The Story of the ILGWU’s Musical ‘Pins & Needles’” functions pictures, files, and recordings connected to the pro-labor union creation that premiered in New York Town in 1937. At the show opening, Mathes and Cowdery—who are also expert musicians—will conduct a collection of music from the musical comedy.

“Pins and Needles” song guide.

With lyrics like “Sing me a music with social significance/Or you can sing ’til you’re blue/Permit meaning glow from ev’ry line/Or I will not really like you,” the musical depicts American blue-collar daily life, romance, and politics in the 1930s, by means of a satirical lens.

The Intercontinental Girls Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU) commissioned composer-lyricist Harold Rome and collected garment manufacturing facility staff who experienced the interest, talent, and spare time to study to sing and dance.

“They would be stitching and chopping through their working day and then go to rehearsals all night time,” Mathes claimed. “It took them a complete calendar year and a half to be prepared, and they only performed weekends at initial.”

There are a lot of fascinating anecdotes and insights to share about the ILGWU forged and the beginnings of “Pins and Needles,” Mathes reported.

“On opening night, all these rich men and women were being at the Metropolitan Opera, which was close to the Labor Phase Theatre [where ‘Pins and Needles’ was premiering], and all their chauffeurs were just waiting around all around,” she claimed. “The director requested the chauffeurs if they wanted to see the musical, and it was these a hit with them that they advised their bosses. It just snowballed from there.”

Mathes curated the show by digging via the collections of the music library and the Kheel Centre for Labor-Administration Archives in Catherwood Library, all parts of Cornell University Library.

“It’s unique that a labor union commissioned this super-effective musical, and it’s wonderful that we have these types of a prosperity of content about this get the job done,” she reported.

The exhibit charts the rise of “Pins and Needles”—from its primary run in the 1930s to its common revival in the 1970s and its 25th anniversary studio recording showcasing Barbara Streisand—and describes the musical’s enduring legacy.

The show also makes connections between the struggles and joys of employees and their shifting instances.

“Caitlin’s study displays how closely Broadway and the enjoyment environment can mirror politics, social issues, and labor issues of the day,” stated Cowdery. “Cornell has exceptional methods for bringing this sophisticated cultural internet to light.”

“Songs to Leave You in Stitches” operates via Dec. 23. It is part of series of exhibits structured by Cornell College Library titled “Threads of History: Textiles at Cornell,” that includes collections and topics similar to textiles and clothes.

Jose Beduya is a author, editor, and social media coordinator or Cornell University Library. This tale also appeared on the library’s web site.

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