Holly Near

Canzoni contro la guerra di Holly Near
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Holly NearHolly Near is a unique combination of entertainer, teacher and activist. An immense vocal talent, Near’s career as a singer has been profoundly defined by an unwillingness to separate her passion for music from her passion for human dignity. She is a skilled performer and an outspoken ambassador for peace who brings to the stage an integration of world consciousness, spiritual discovery, and theatricality.

Although she sang in public from the age of eight, Ms. Near’s professional career began with numerous performances in film and television, and a run in the Broadway production of Hair. Torn between a career as an actor or a singer, Ms. Near chose to pursue her love of music, especially that music which articulated the social conditions of the world community.

Throughout her lengthy career, Ms. Near has used her performances to educate audiences. The unifying and healing nature of her work explains the diverse nature of the groups who call on her to speak and sing. She presented the 2004 Ware Lecture for the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly in Long Beach, California; delivered the keynote address for Women Change America, a conference presented by the National Women's History Project at Smith College; spoke to participants at HerbFest in Iowa and the Bioneers Conference in California; and led a Martin Luther King Day celebration in Northern California. She participated and performed at the March For Women's Lives in Washington, DC and at the Stop The War demonstration in New York, NY.

In 2004, Holly joined Eve Ensler, Jane Fonda, Sally Fields, Christine Latti, and noted Mexican performers, in the V-Day march in Juarez, Mexico to protest the uninvestigated killing of hundreds of young women. In Toledo, Ohio, she sat witness to the testimony of women reporting rape and other violence against women. Holly helped raise funds for 10,000 Kites, a collaborative anti-war project between young people from Israel and Palestine who will fly kites over the wall that separates them in May 2005.

Near participated in a two day filmed discussion with Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon, Harry Belafonte, and Pete Seeger that focused on political song, responsible citizenship, and the effect that protest music has had on public policy. The film, produced by Dr. Amy Horowitz, is in progress. Near’s portrait hangs at The Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio along with those of other social change artists including Paul Robeson, Marion Anderson, Pete Seeger, Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon, Joan Baez, Harry Belafonte, and Woody Guthrie.

Fiercely independent, Near was one of the first women in the U.S. to go it alone when she founded Redwood Records in 1972. Near’s vision for Redwood was to promote and produce music by politically conscious artists from around the world, a mission it fulfilled for nearly 20 years. Finding herself at the forefront of a movement, Near worked for world peace, multi-cultural consciousness, and feminism. The world was her university and social change movements informed her songs. She sang the secrets long before such ideas found space in the major media.

A natural teacher, Holly presents master classes in performance craft and song writing to a wide array of audiences. As she laughingly says, "I’m old enough now to be an expert!" Both as a participant and a leader, she bears personal witness to the hugely important role that music plays in political action movements. Holly’s unique personal perspective, which makes the subject matter leap out of the books and into the classroom, draws praise from college faculties around the country.

Near has received numerous accolades for her work for social change. Most notably, she is part of the nomination for “1000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize 2005.” She has also received honors from the A.C.L.U., the National Lawyers Guild, the National Organization for Women, N.A.R.A.S., Ms. Magazine (Woman of the Year), and the Legends of Women’s Music Award. And her strength and versatility as a performer has led to creative collaborations with such artists as Ronnie Gilbert, Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, Mercedes Sosa, Bernice Johnson Reagon, Inti-Illimani, Bonnie Raitt, Cris Williamson, and Linda Tillery.

Near has released over 20 recordings, including the seminal Imagine My Surprise, and performs as a guest on many others. Over the past few years, Near has been busy re-releasing much of her early material as well as new works on her own label, Calico Tracks Music. Her recent recording, Edge, clearly demonstrates that Holly is not resting on her laurels, but continues to write and sing political songs with the grace, humor, and maturity that come from doing social change work for over 30 years. Near’s integrity has earned her a reputation as one of the most powerful and articulate political artists of our time.

Holly has traveled from the fields of central California singing in support of The United Farm Workers to El Salvador where she sang for peace amidst war and conflict. She has been a powerful voice of humanity for over 25 years. Her songs were sung clandestinely in Latin American prisons and sung boldly by Irish and English women who joined together to protest war. Whether in support of nurses striking for better conditions in the emergency room or in opposition to racist violence on the police force, Holly sings a bold truth.

Twenty some years ago, there were no nationally or internationally known, out lesbian singers. Holly was a major force in bringing lesbian music to a larger audience. The music was a lifeline for thousands of people as they "came out". Holly's songs crossed the ocean and found their way to those who thought they were "the only one" or to those whose very lives were in great danger if they were found out. Lesbians in the military mentioned Holly's name as a code word while trying to find each other amidst the hostility of the barracks. For years, Holly would be a lone voice at folk festivals, peace rallies and Hollywood fund-raisers, not only daring to say the word, but often getting large crowds of people to sing "...We are gay and straight together, singing for our lives."
Although Near now is in a relationship with a man, she is still a powerful voice for love and continues to include lesbian material in her work.

A peace activist and advocate for human and civil rights, Holly has linked the multitude of issues that are our lives, refusing the idea of separate "causes", calling for lesbian and gay issues to be part of the larger world peace addenda, encouraging the gay and lesbian community to have a world consciousness and end racism and sexism within the community. When asked how she keeps her energy for this work, she smiles. "I am selfish. I reach for the world I want to live in. And I believe in leaving our best we can do to our children".

Amidst all her work for peace and human rights, Holly is a consummate singer and entertainer. When she sings show tunes or songs from the 30s, her audience knows that Ms. Near could have chosen to be a Broadway musical star or a cabaret artist. And yet, these great songs come through Holly's unique world experience and we hear them as if for the first time. Out of this gentle, vibrant woman comes a huge voice, a unique sense of humor, an unexpected theatricality and a startling power. The moment she feels trapped in a genre, she breaks into a song that challenges the boxes and stereotypes. It is tempting to want to claim her as one's own. However, Holly Near is very independent, full of surprises. She is one of a kind.

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