Like many other songs, we have gone over in this class, At the Purchaser’s Option by Rhiannon Giddens embodies not one issue but multiple social justice issues that are going on today. The Purchaser’s Option addresses dilemmas including women being stripped of their rights and not having control over their own bodies. It also addresses the issue that many face in this country, which is being involved in menial jobs, for the sole purpose of making others rich. I found three songs “You Don’t Owe Me” by Lesley Gore, “Millworker” by James Taylor, and “Birmingham Sunday” by Rhiannon Giddens. 


Lesley Gore – You Don’t Own Me (HD)

And don’t tell me what to do

Oh, don’t tell me what to say

And please, when I go out with you

Don’t put me on display

For my first song, I decided to choose a song called “You Don’t Owe Me” by Lesley Gore. When comparing “You Don’t Owe Me” to the song “At the Purchaser’s Option”, they both have a musical lineage that helps paint the picture and tells the story of the countless of women who were affected by the political issues during that time period, as well as struggle and torment. For Rhiannon Giddens, the story she is trying to tell goes into how of a young enslaved woman, whose baby is offered at the option of her buyer and brings up many civil rights issues going on in the past, as well as the presence. For instance, the article “You Don’t Owe Me, A Feminist Anthem With Civil Right Roots, Is All About Empathy”, states “Madara says the song sensibility was also shaped by his upbringing in a multiracial Philadelphia neighborhood and his participation in the civil rights movement. I saw how black people got treated,” he says. “It was horrible, horrible, horrible. My friends and I got locked up in Philadelphia and Mississippi, and they treated us like gangsters. And my black friends got hit more than I got hit. [The police] had billy clubs and hit you across the legs, but the black guys got hit across the body. Those are things you don’t forget” (Ulaby). Although the song eventually became a women empowerment anthem, it is a direct correlation to the struggle African Americans were going through in the civil rights movement and has a similar influence that Rhiannon Giddens portrays through her music. 


James Taylor – Millworker (from Pull Over)

Millworker by James Taylor 

Millwork ain’t easy

Millwork ain’t hard

Millwork, it ain’t nothing

But an awful boring job

I’m waiting for a daydream

To take me through the morning

And put me in my coffee break

Where I can have a sandwich

And remember


At the Purchasers Option by Rhiannon Taylor 


Day by day I work the line

Every minute overtime

Fingers nimble, fingers quick

My fingers bleed to make you rich


My second song choice is “Millworker”, a song written and sung by James Taylor. Both James Taylor and Rhiannon Giddens use a slow melody with guitar playing in the background to set the mood and give the issues at hand some substance. In the article, “Meaning of the Millworker (Live) ” by James Taylor, the article goes into depth and explains “The song opens with a glimpse into the protagonist’s family history. Her grandfather was a sailor, symbolizing a sense of adventure and freedom. However, her father was a farmer, bound to the land and burdened by the weight of responsibility. The choice of her father’s occupation sets the stage for a contrasting perspective on work and life. The millworker finds herself tied to a monotonous and unfulfilling job, taking up the family mantle in a different way” (Songtell). Tied up to an unfilled job and feeling worthless in a society where the hard work someone does is not being compensated in the correct manner is a common occurrence which both Giddens and Taylor illustrate in their music. Below are lyrics from “Millworker” and “At the Purchaser’s Option”   


Rhiannon Giddens – Birmingham Sunday – Union Chapel, London – March 2017


On Birmingham Sunday a noise shook the ground

And people all over the Earth turned around

For no one recalled a more cowardly sound

And the choirs kept singing of freedom

“Birmingham Sunday” by Rhiannon Giddens is similar to another piece of work by her, “ At the Purchaser’s Option”. “Birmingham Sunday” is a cover of a protist song written in the 1960’s, about the Ku Klux Klan’s bombing of a baptist church in bombing of a baptist in Alabama. In regards to musical lineage, the chorus is seen as uplifting, as well as both dive into the dilemma of repression in this country. There are parallels to current race issues and the need to address and overcome them. For example, in the song, she names the four victims, not unlike the “Say Their Names” demand from those protesting victims of police violence. We are able to hear in both songs, the use of Rhiannon Giddens instruments like the banjo, piano, and violin to convey the message that a change needs to happen and with the underlying message that there is a positive light at the end of the tunnel.