Anne Feeney, a folk singer-songwriter and self-described rabble-rouser from Pittsburgh, died Feb. 3 of complications from COVID-19. She was 69.
Feeney performed for striking workers on countless picket lines, in union halls, and at many major labor movement events, including the WTO demonstrations in Seattle, Solidarity Day in Washington, D.C., and the 2004 March for Women’s Lives.
Over the course of her career, she released 12 albums, played more than 4,000 shows across North America and Europe, and shared stages with Pete Seeger, Loretta Lynn, John Prine, Toshi Reagon, The Mammals, Dan Bern, the Indigo Girls, and Billy Bragg. Her biggest hit, “Have You Been to Jail for Justice?,” was also recorded by Peter, Paul and Mary. She was a regular at the Oregon Country Fair and other festivals. Feeney served as president of the Pittsburgh Musician’s Union from 1981 to 1997, the first and only woman to hold that position.
Anne Feeney was born July 1, 1951, in Charleroi, Pennsylvania, and raised in Pittsburgh’s Brookline neighborhood. Her grandfather, William Patrick Feeney, was a first-generation Irish immigrant, a mineworkers’ organizer, and violinist who used music to support working-class organizing.
“There’s a war on the workers, and it’s time we started calling the shots.” — from War on the Workers, song by Anne Feeney
Feeney graduated from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law in 1978 and practiced as a trial lawyer for 12 years, primarily representing refugees and survivors of domestic violence.
She launched her professional recording career in the late 1980s and in 1991 began traveling around the country to perform at labor conventions, picket lines and festivals.
She married labor attorney Ron Berlin, and had two children, Dan and Amy. They were divorced in 1995. In 2002, she married Swedish political artist Julie Leonardsson.
In 2005, she received the Joe Hill Award from the Labor Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C.
Her career was put on hold in 2010 when she was diagnosed with small cell lung cancer. She recovered and continued to tour until the cancer returned in 2015.
Feeney was living in a senior care facility, where she suffered a fractured vertebrae that sent her to a nursing facility. She was diagnosed with a COVID-related pneumonia in late January.
She will be buried in Mt. Olive, Illinois, next to one of her greatest heroes, Mother Jones.