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The Raging Grannies: Not Your Grandmother’s Protest Songs

It’s been said that “well-behaved women rarely make history.” In Bloomington, a group of female singers “of a certain age” is putting that adage to the test.

  • Raging Grannies

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    Photo: Cynthia Roberts Hall

    A Raging Grannies quilt

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    Photo: Cynthia Roberts Hall

    The Raging Grannies sing at the Homeward Bound Walk to end homelessness in Bloomington April 17, 2010.

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    Photo: Cynthia Roberts Hall

    The Grannies sing to end homelessness.

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    Photo: Cynthia Roberts Hall

    The Grannies with their quilt

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    Photo: Cynthia Roberts Hall

    The Grannies

Women Behaving Badly

It’s been said that “well-behaved women rarely make history.” In Bloomington, Indiana, a group of women ‘of a certain age’ is putting that adage to the test, upending notions about ‘little old ladies’ and the traditional American songbook as they sing for global justice.

While imploding the traditional songbook, the Grannies also do a number on the persona of the little old lady, performing in aprons and shawls, toting rolling pins and laundry baskets.

This One’s For Fidel

It’s a mid-summer evening. The Hoosier Raging Grannies have donned their multi-colored aprons and flowered hats for a pitch-in at the Unitarian Church, where they are helping to host the Pastors for Peace Friendshipment Caravan to Cuba as it passes through town. The caravan challenges the US trade and travel blockade of Cuba by delivering humanitarian aid to the island nation, and raising awareness along the way. It’s an appropriate venue; Bloomington has been a sister city to Santa Clara, Cuba for over a decade.

The gathering of community activists and caravanistas is complemented by a choral protest by The Raging Grannies. They offer up a tailor-made number sung to the tune of “My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean:”

It’s been 51 years that our government
Tried to kick out old Fidel.
But the Cubans are proud, brave, and fearless,
And tell Uncle Sam, go to Hell…

Cuba is not the Grannies’ only cause célèbre. They sing for peace and they sing against war, adapting show tunes, folk songs, and standards to lyrics that protest racial profiling, torture, and corporate fraud.

Part Of A Whole

Bloomington’s granny band is an offshoot of a larger movement. It started in Canada in 1987, when a group of women in their 50s and 60s came out to protest the nukes onboard US Navy ships stationed around Victoria, British Columbia, where they lived. Within time, granny-ing went global, after a fashion.

Cynthia Roberts Hall encountered the Grannies at a conference for the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) in the ’90s. “I thought, that’s great,” Hall recalls, “but I don’t really sing.” ** After working up her nerve to join in when the Grannies performed at another WILPF conference in 2008, Hall was inspired to bring the concept back to Bloomington.

It wasn’t hard to persuade her friend Glenda Breeden, among others. “There might be three of us, there might be ten of us,” Breeden ventures. “We’ve sung at the Farmers’ Market, uninvited; we’ve sung at the Farmers’ Market, invited.”

A Song For Any Cause

The Hoosier Raging Grannies have shown up to support a variety of causes, including Hoosiers for a Commonsense Health Plan and the Bloomington Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. They’ve serenaded taxpayers at the post office to raise awareness about defense spending; they’ve joined voices with the crowd that gathered outside of a city council meeting on homelessness.

“Expressing your activism through song ,” said Hall, “is a great way to do it.”

For More Raging Grannies And Related Information…

**It should be noted that according to the  website of Raging Grannies International, in addition to “a sense of humour and a willingness to make noise,” grannies must possess “no singing ability.”

Yaël Ksander

WFIU's Arts Desk Editor, Yaël seeks out and shepherds the stories of artists, musicians, writers, and other creative people. In addition, Yaël co-hosts A Moment of Science, writes essays for A Moment of Indiana History, produces Speak Your Mind (WFIU's guest editorial segment), hosts music and news hours throughout the week, and lends her voice to everything from accounting courses to nature documentaries. Yaël holds a MFA in painting from Indiana University, an MA in art history from Columbia University, and a BA from the University of Virginia, where she studied languages and literature.

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  • Pamwalton

    If you're interested in the Raging Grannies, you'll be interested in RAGING GRANNIES: THE ACTION LEAGUE, a new 30-minute DVD for progressive activists. It's AVAILABLE NOW. Be the first on your block to own a copy! These women do not go quietly into old age! They inspire us with their dedication to social justice. Winner 2009 National Mature Media Merit Award and a prize winner at Big Muddy Film Festival. You can purchase the DVD and watch a preview clip at http://www.pamwaltonproductions.com

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