Radio Diaries

The Song that Crossed Party Lines

Nov. 4, 2016

This election season, our country seems more politically divided than ever. The race has been so ugly that it’s hard to even imagine a time when Republicans and Democrats could agree on anything at all.

In this podcast episode, we’re going back more than 75 years, to another hard-fought election. In 1940, FDR squared off against Wendell Willkie. And during the campaign, the Republicans, the Democrats, and even the Communist Party managed to agree on one thing:

A song.

It was an unlikely hit. The song was a kind of folk opera, sung by a Black man, that ran 10 minutes. But whether you were on the left or the right, the song’s populist message had something for everyone. It debuted on a national radio broadcast, on November 5, 1939. Producer Ben Shapiro brings us the story of “Ballad for Americans.”

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Additional music in this episode comes from the band Broke for Free.

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