Anne Feeney, fierce and tireless protest singer, dies at 69

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Anne Feeney, fierce and tireless protest singer, dies at 69
Feeney, a fierce and tireless folk musician who played more than 4,000 shows over a 30-year career, appearing at peace protests, picket lines and fund-raisers for progressive causes, died on Feb. 3, 2021, at a hospital in Pittsburgh. She was 69. Bev Grant via The New York Times.

by Clay Risen

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- Anne Feeney, a fierce and tireless folk musician who played more than 4,000 shows over a 30-year career, appearing at peace protests, picket lines and fundraisers for progressive causes, died Feb. 3 at a hospital in Pittsburgh. She was 69 and carried a business card that read “Performer, Producer, Hellraiser.”

Her daughter, Amy Sue Berlin, announced her mother’s death on Facebook. She said the cause was COVID-19.

Feeney, whose first public appearance came in 1969 at a demonstration against the Vietnam War, served as a link between the protest singers of the 1960s and the younger generations that emerged around the anti-globalization and anti-war movements of the early 2000s. Her admirers included both Pete Seeger and Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, and she was just as comfortable playing a union hall as she was onstage in a punk club.

“She was joyous and fiery in her determination to use her music to elevate those who are most marginalized and to move toward greater justice in the land,” said Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary, in a statement released after Feeney’s death.

Anne Feeney was born on July 1, 1951, in Charleroi, Pennsylvania, and grew up in Pittsburgh’s Brookline neighborhood. Her father, Edward Feeney, was a chemist, and her mother, Annabelle (Runner) Feeney, was a homemaker.

Feeney’s first marriage, to Ron Berlin, a labor lawyer, ended in divorce in 1995. Along with her daughter, she is survived by her son, Daniel Berlin; her sister, Kathleen Feeney; two grandchildren; and her husband Julie Leonardsson, a Swedish artist whom she married in 2002.

She bought her first — and, for 40 years, her only — guitar, a Martin D-28, in 1967, and soon became a common sight at protests around Pittsburgh. In 1972 she attended the annual Conference on Women and the Law, the beginning of a lifetime of activism around women’s issues. She later organized public support for a rape crisis center in Pittsburgh and served on the board of the Pennsylvania chapter of the National Organization for Women.

Feeney graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 1974 and from its law school in 1978, after which she spent more than a decade working as a trial lawyer, taking mostly domestic violence cases.

She continued with her music, too, playing guitar in a bluegrass band called Cucumber Rapids. In the late 1980s she stopped practicing law and in 1992 released her first album, “Look to the Left.” Eleven more followed. Peter, Paul and Mary covered her best-known song, “Have You Ever Been to Jail for Justice?” on their 2004 album “In These Times.”

The granddaughter of an immigrant from Ireland who organized mine workers, she also knew hundreds of Irish ballads, drinking tunes and rebel songs. Every summer she chartered a bus and traveled around Ireland, taking fans to her favorite sites and performing wherever they stopped for the night.

But her first love remained the union movement, and her favorite concert locale was the picket line, often driving hours out of her way while on tour if she heard word of a labor action.

“Anne Feeney wasn’t just someone who sang about the movement — she was in the movement,” said Evan Greer, a musician and longtime touring companion. “She used her music as a weapon.”

© 2021 The New York Times Company

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