Si Kahn
Gig Seeker Pro

Si Kahn


Band Folk Singer/Songwriter


This band has not uploaded any videos
This band has not uploaded any videos


The best kept secret in music


"Short Quotes"


Rich Warren, The Midnight Special, WFMT, Chicago: “Our live Folkstage artist was Si Kahn. Si has so many wonderful attributes it's hard to list all of them. In addition to being a singer-songwriter, he's a labor and political organizer and activist, and a true philosopher. Si has also developed a terrific sense of humor, which works to drive home the political and social messages in his carefully crafted songs. He is so wonderfully human in performance and it's obvious he deeply means what he says and what he sings.”

Studs Terkel: “Si Kahn fuses life with song.”

Robert Christgau, Village Voice: “Subtlety, originality and sheer conceptual elegance.”

The Capital Times, Madison, Editorial: “One of the epic figures in contemporary American folk music and activism.”

Dave Higgs, Bluegrass News: “In a world rife with many talented songwriters, Si Kahn stands alone. And his deeply thoughtful, elegantly simple, sometimes majestic, often achingly moving and always hard-hitting songs have stood, and will continue to stand, the test of time.”

Geoffrey Himes, Washington Post: "Not since Wallace Stevens scribbled poetry in the hours after his insurance job has a hobbyist/artist created a body of work as impressive as Si Kahn's.”

The Circle Coffeehouse, Boston: “His vast experiences with community organizing, Judaism, and social justice illuminate his brilliant songs, and his powerful experiences inspire us all.”

Scott Alarik, “We're Still Here” liner notes: “By the unique, timeless, grassrootsy measures with which great folk songs have always been judged, it can be argued that he is the most successful folk songwriter of his generation. This is all the more remarkable, given that he is also among the most unrepentantly radical political songwriters of his age.”

Dick Pleasants, WUMB, Boston: “I love Si Kahn. I love the way he makes me feel when I meet him and when I listen to his music…As folk music should, Si brings us back to the place we should be.”

Nat Hentoff, The Nation: “A strong, clear, supple voice and the timing of a classic storyteller.”

Lynn Van Matre, Chicago Tribune: “His songs, which reflect by turns uncommon amounts of humor, compassion, passion and poetry…represent some of the finest efforts in the contemporary folk vein.”

Ariel Swartley, Boston Phoenix: “Si Kahn is the first artist since Woody Guthrie to swoop down on a body of traditional material, transform it utterly and send it home with a shine on.”

Mary Chapin Carpenter: “Keep writing your wonderful songs, the world needs them so much.”

Charles Johnson, Bluegrass Unlimited: “In concert, he's a particularly powerful and warm performer…He mesmerizes the crowd with his songs, which are thoughtful, provocative and often wryly humorous.”

Ken Hunt, Folk Roots: “His wonderful rural, old time, blues-soaked, pain-filled voice produces consistently moving interpretations of his songs.”

Jane Ashley, USA Today: “Some call him a poet. Others say he's a modern-day Woody Guthrie.”

Pete Seeger: “Si Kahn is one of the best…a solid thinker who is able to humanize the political…I hope he lives to be 120.”

Michelle Shocked: “The workers have themselves quite a player in Si Kahn.”

Mark Moss, Sing Out!: “Rarely are life, music and political action so firmly fused.”

Matt Watroba, Sing Out!: “One of our very best songwriters…The feeling behind most of Si Kahn's music has everything to do with singing deep from the heart in a circle of friends.”

Derk Richardson, Bay Guardian: “One of this country's most talented populist songwriters since Woody Guthrie…He frames personal stories…with the unstrained poetry of everyday language.”

Tommy Thompson, Red Clay Ramblers: “About as good a songwriter as you'll come across.”

Bruce Kaplan, Flying Fish Records: “Probably the best songwriter I ever had contact with.”

- Assembled by Josh Dunson


November 30, 2005

Our views

Si Kahn: Carry it on!

Almost two decades ago, folk singers Pete Seeger and Si Kahn leant their voices to a classic cycle of protest songs from the civil rights era and beyond, “Carry It On.”

This week Kahn, one of the epic figures in contemporary American folk music and activism, is living the title of that CD in Madison, where he is carrying on the struggle for social and economic justice that has consumed most of his 60 years.

Kahn is focusing much of his energy while in Madison on his opposition to capital punishment and what has become known as the prison-industrial complex. A longtime battler against for-profit prisons and the schemes of corporations to “employ” inmates at jobs that used to be performed by public workers and unionized employees of private sector firms, Kahn has done much to help explain why prison reform is a moral, social and economic issue…

The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. told us that, while the arc of history is long, it bends toward justice. Madisonians are indeed lucky that Si Kahn – who has done more to bend that arc than most – is doing some of the work with us this week.

- Capital Times, Madison

"More Money-Less Service"

October 30, 2005
Paul J. Nyden
West Virginia Charleston Gazaette

More money, less service
Si Kahn — a writer, singer and community organizer for 40 years — is visiting Charleston today to talk about his new book, written with his wife Elizabeth Minnich.

“The Fox in the Henhouse: How Privatization Threatens Democracy,” just published on Thursday, makes a powerful case that privatizing government programs hurts a lot more people than it helps.

Kahn and Minnich describe the growing roles that large private companies play — and hope to expand — in running schools, prisons, military bases, public lands, health-care services, workplace safety and Social Security.

Tax dollars are not being saved. Put simply: Tax dollars are taken away from poor and middle-class Americans and handed over to the wealthiest.

“Privatization is an agenda more or less forcibly imposed on governments that lessens their powers in favor of the largest corporations,” Kahn and Minnich write.

“I believe in grassroots organizing, in doing things where you are,” Kahn said during an interview last week.

Working with the West Virginia Council of Churches and the Appalachian Center at Wheeling-Jesuit University, Kahn has visited West Virginia several times in the past year.

“Recently, I have been working on prisons, private prisons and alternative incarceration,” said Kahn, who now lives in Charlotte, N.C. (Grassroots Leadership, his group that offers advice to Southern activists, has a Web site: www.grassroots

“We put out a report about the need not to privatize prisons, jails and detention centers. What does the expansion of the prison industry cost West Virginia in lost revenues for schools and public education? It undermines public education.

“West Virginia is not getting bigger. And it is not getting smaller. It is amazing how constant its population has been. West Virginia also has an aging population and one of the lowest crime rates in the country.

“Yet, in the last 10 years, the prison population in West Virginia has more than doubled,” Kahn said.

“The Fox in the Henhouse” is filled with powerful examples of the impact of privatizing government functions.

Last Dec. 22, insurgents in Iraq blew up a U.S. military mess hall in Mosul, killing 22 people.

In the past, the U.S. military, even during training exercises, fed soldiers at different times, then had them disperse after picking up their meals.

Things are different now.

Ralph Peters, a retired colonel, said, “Instead of security, what we saw [at Mosul] was convenience and efficiency. But it just baffled me that this base and this chow hall ... had been attacked before with rocket fire, with mortars. And we were still crowding these troops, not even staggering the schedules.”

Privatizing means many jobs will never be done well again.

“A couple of nights ago, I was talking on a radio station in Oregon when a guy called in who lost his job when they privatized custodial services at his school, giving the work to a cleaning agency,” Kahn said.

“The caller said, ‘We were the custodians. But we were also the caretakers. I had responsibility to make sure our kids were safe, that they were protected. That is what a custodian does.

“‘We don’t just sweep the floors. We make the schools safe. The new cleaning service — they don’t care who they hire. It can be a different person every day. They do not offer safety. They do not offer care and love,’ he said.

“What are we doing to our kids?” Kahn asked. “Doing the right thing costs money.”

“The Fox in the Henhouse” argues privatizing government services has become a growing problem since Ronald Reagan’s presidency.

Privatization “is a purposeful, planned, global, political agenda with dramatic consequences for the lives of people in the United States and around the globe.

“The difference between the values and goals of privatizers and ... of those committed to the public good is the great divide of our times,” the book states.

- West Virginia Charleston Gazette


Over There: Si Kahn, Threads
Si Kahn's most enduring tune - his "Blowin' In The Wind," if you will - is "Aragon Mill," the best song every written about a dying factory town. It has entered the folk tradition so thoroughly that it is often credited on record and onstage as a traditional number (sometimes called "Belfast Mill" or "Weave and Spin"), although Kahn wrote it in 1972. His new album, "Threads," is a song-cycle about cotton mills and the folks who work in them - a series of variations on the theme of "Aragon Mill" - and this return to his most familiar subject yields his best crop of songs in years.

Typical of the album is "Down On The Merrimack River." The verses are filled with sharp storytelling details about a 17-year old farm girl who followed the river down from New Hampshire to the mills of Lowell, Masschusetts, in 1846. But the chorus boasts a simple, sing-along melody and catch-phrase in the best tradition of the Carter Family. Kahn uses this approach again and again, whether singing about a restless Arkansas sharecropper on "High Cotton," a lecherous West Virginia mill owner on "In The Spinning Mill," or the Korea veterans drinking beers down at the "Moose Lodge." The vivid specifics of the verses are always balanced by the rousing universality of the chorus.

Kahn doesn't own the world's most handsome voice, but he works well within his limitations, and Switzerland's top bluegrass band, the Krüger Brothers, provide strong, tasteful support. Just as Wallace Stevens wrote some of the best American poems of the last century in his spare time while working a full-time job as an insurance executive in Hartford, Connecticut, Kahn wrote some of the finest political folk songs of the 1970s and '80s in his spare time while working a full-time job as a community organizer in Charlotte, North Carolina. This part-time approach may have lowered his profile, but it has not curtailed the quality of his art.

Geoffrey Himes
No Depression
November-December 2002

It was standing room only in the U.S. Capitol as the Public Safety and Justice Campaign (PSJC) took the
- No Depression


Si Kahn has recoreded on Flying Fish, Rounder, Appleseed, Sliced Bread, Double Time Music and Strictly Country Music. A cross section of issues are We're Still Here, Threads,Been A Long Time In My Hear, Godtimes and Bedtimes, and I Have Seen Freedom.


Feeling a bit camera shy


Si has released 14 albums of his original songs, plus a collection of traditional labor, civil rights and women's songs with Pete Seeger and Jane Sapp. Si's release is Been A Long Time on Sliced Bread featuring Laurie Lewis & Friends. ( His 14th CD, We?re Still Here was recorded on tour in the Netherlands, and released in celebration of Si?s 60th birthday in April 2004. Dick Gaughan, Robin and Linda Williams, June Tabor and the Oyster Band, Patrick Street, Laurie Lewis and Grant Street, Dolores Keane and Planxty are a partial list of outstanding artists who have covered Kahn?s songs.

Si performs regularly at concerts and festivals throughout North America and Europe. He is a member of Local 1000 of the American Federation of Musicians, AFL-CIO; a trustee of the Labor Heritage Foundation; and the official poet laureate of the North Carolina labor movement by unanimous vote of the convention in 1986.

Si is the executive director of Grassroots Leadership, now in its 25th year. The Charlotte, North Carolina based tax-exempt organization is a multi-racial team of activists who do civil rights, labor and community organizing across the South. He also serves as campaign director for the Public Safety and Justice Campaign, a Southern, national and international campaign to abolish for-profit private prisons. The mission statement for the campaign reads:

"For-profit private prisons, jails and detention centers have no place in a democratic society. Profiteering from the imprisonment of human beings compromises public safety and corrupts justice. In the spirit of democracy and accountability, we call for an end to all incarceration for profit."

Kahn's lecture "Blood from Stone: Private Prisons and the Corruption of Justice" chronicles private prison abuses and the international movement to abolish them.

Si began his organizing career in 1965 in Arkansas with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, more popularly known as SNCC, the student wing of the Southern Civil Rights Movement. During the 1970s, he worked with the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) during the Brookside Strike in Harlan County, Kentucky. He was an Area Director of the J.P. Stevens Campaign for the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union (ACTWU), now part of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE). He founded Grassroots Leadership in 1980 and has served as its executive director since.

Si has written two basic organizing handbooks, How People Get Power and Organizing: A Guide for Grassroots Leaders, both published by the National Association of Social Workers Press. He is the founder and a continuing board member of the Jewish Fund for Justice, a national Jewish foundation that supports local community organizing projects which deal with the root causes of poverty. Si is married to the feminist philosopher Elizabeth Kamarck Minnich. They have three adult children: Simon, Jesse and Gabriel. Gabe carries on the family musical tradition as a member of the hip-hop band Granola Funk Express. (Gabe's website can be found at:

Si Kahn is also an accomplished author and musician who incorporates his passion for people?s rights into his songwriting performances and lectures.