Bread & Roses, the Mimi Fariña Legacy
Updated: Apr 21
A Story of Music in Action
I was transported back to a very different era of my life recently when South Africa’s Music Guru, Sean Brokensha, played Judy Collins singing Bread and Roses during his excellent weekend radio show on Johannesburg’s Mix 93 FM. Some may not remember who Judy Collins is, and fewer will know what the Bread and Roses movement was about, but it is an interesting bit of musical history that did so much for the social consciousness of the era’s music lovers. We’ll start with a little background about the movement’s driving force, Mimi Fariña.
Mimi Fariña, Freebo and Banana rehearsing at the 1978 Bread & Roses Concert
Most Folk Music fans will recognise the name Joan Baez, but few ever mention or play her sister, Mimi Fariña’s, music. Mimi was the youngest of the Baez girls and like sister Joan, took up the guitar in the early 60s to be a part of the American Folk Music revival. She met and married singer/songwriter Richard Fariña at 17-years-old and the young couple released a number of albums before he was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident on Mimi’s 21st birthday in 1966.
After his death, Mimi moved to San Francisco and built a solid career as a singer/songwriter, actress, model, and like her sister, activist. In 1967 she and Joan were arrested in a peaceful demonstration and were held at the Santa Rita Jail which was a life-changing event for Mimi. She continued to tour both with Joan, and also Tom Jans, with whom she released the Take Heart album in 1971.
Take Heart was my introduction to Mimi Fariña, and when my big brother, Gordon, brought it home. I spent many hours listening to the songs and trying to learn their different guitar picking styles. It will always remain a special album for me and a fond reminder of my early music mentor.
Mimi started to accompany Joan and BB King when they performed for the prisoners in Sing Sing Prison. Having had a taste of jail, this experience sparked her desire to do more for those in institutions. I’ll carry on with the story after listening to one of the beautiful tracks from Tom Jans and Mimi Fariña’s Take Heart album. Here’s a simple but very deep song about the thought processes of a child, Charlotte.
After years of performing Mimi Fariña made it her mission to improve lives with music and founded Bread & Roses with the aim of bringing musicians to jails, prisons, hospitals, children’s wards and institutions where entertainment wasn’t accessible. The shows took off and Mimi organised dozens of events in the San Francisco Bay Area during those early days.
The name Bread & Roses was chosen in honour of a speech made by Rose Schneiderman, the president of the New York Woman’s Trade Union (1917-49). The actual line was “The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too”. This line was itself borrowed from the title of a 1911 poem by John Oppenheim and remembered as the slogan adopted in the 1912 textile strike in Massachusetts.
The Bread & Roses name has been adopted by numerous organisations and publications and was the perfect name for Mimi’s fast-growing movement. The first Bread & Roses Festival of Music was held in 1977 at Berkley’s Greek Theatre. The venue was perfect for the acoustic event and look at the posters shows a list of top names that lent their support to the cause.
The festival didn’t only encompass music, but also provided free, all-day workshops for attendees. The events were also broadcast into six of California’s twelve state prisons. A live album of the festival was recorded and reached cult status. This has now become a collector’s item and I certainly wish I still had my copy.
I found a rare film clip of Joan Baez and Mimi Fariña performing live at Sing Sing Prison in 1973. The clip is from the 1974 documentary Sing Sing Thanksgiving 1973 and covers a live concert where numerous artists came together. BB King called it the best performance of his life. It is half documentary and half concert film and, for those who are interested you can follow the link.
Here’s Joan Baez performing Dylan’s I Shall Be Released and joined by Mimi Fariña, live in action before the inmates of Sing Sing Prison.
The first six Bread & Roses festivals were all acoustic and became legendary among Folk fans of the day. Mimi’s reasoning for keeping things acoustic was that artists were travelling from all parts of the country at their own expense. It is far easier and cheaper to travel with an instrument without amps and all the related paraphernalia. Like the artists, all of the technical, administration and floor staff were volunteers.
Although Mimi Farina passed away from cancer in 2001, her organisation has gone on to be one of the driving forces behind community development through music. Visiting Bread & Roses’ highly informative website is a wealth of information, history, archives of performances and features about the artists.
Known now as Bread & Roses Presents, the organisation shares hope and healing nearly every day of the year throughout the Bay Area, particularly to low-income children with little accessibility to live performances. Their reach has now extended beyond organised institutions to homeless shelters and hospices and anyone facing separation from their loved ones or facing challenging times.
Image: Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez together at Bread & Roses
In 2019 alone they presented 653 shows across 123 facilities in eight Bay Area counties; on average more than one show every day of the year. This showcased the talents of more than 1,000 volunteer musicians and other performers to bring joy to almost 33,000 isolated audience members, 60% of whom are a minority. A remarkable achievement and a testament to the Bread & Roses founder.
Thanks for taking the time to pay tribute to a wonderful person and truly gifted performer from my distant youth. To close the feature I would like to visit the 1977 concert album and the sisters in song and activism, Joan Baez and Mimi Fariña, singing the anthem to the concert and of the organisation, Bread & Roses.
The Loving the Music mini-features are written and compiled by The Design Train to support Loving the Music’s blog page, Facebook page and group. Join the community for regular themed three-part posts that do more than just share a song.
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Words © Andrew Knapp 2021