In The Spotlight

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If the bright and friendly smile Ginger Canor Pinkard gives you on first acquaintance doesn't win you over completely, her personality will complete the job. When she is not singing at a rehearsal or performance of the New York City Labor Chorus, she's darting off to another meeting or assignment. Her calendar rivals that of a CEO - just try to get an hour on it!

Ginger Canor was born in 1925 in a Jewish working class neighborhood in the Bronx. She had one older sister. Ginger started school in the Bronx, but with the start of the depression, the family moved to what Ginger describes as the slums of Manhattan's lower east side. There she first experienced anti-semitism and racism, and saw her best friend's family evicted into the snow-filled streets. As the Sheriff's men came down the stairs carrying the furniture onto the street, a line of men from the Unemployed Councils brought the furniture back up. She never forgot it.

On borrowed money, her parents opened and ran a small restaurant for two years. Life was hard in the cold-water flat on 32nd Street and Second Avenue, and after feeding the striking garment workers of a factory down the block for months, the restaurant went bankrupt.

The Canors moved back to the Bronx and -- again on borrowed money -- ran and/or worked in candy stores seven days a week. Time marched on and Ginger went to high school. She joined the American Students Union, which supported jobs for the unemployed, anti-discrimination, anti-lynching and pro-union activities. They joined demonstrations and picket lines and handed out leaflets -- and they sang. They sang union songs, spirituals and folk songs. It was during this time that Ginger began to see how vital a role singing played in bringing people together and inspiring them toward political activism.

It was now the middle of World Word II, and Ginger went to work in a New Jersey war plant to contribute to the war effort. She joined the UAW. Later on she belonged to other unions -- office workers, restaurant workers, etc. What Ginger is particularly proud of is organizing the laminating division and the office staff of a printing company into a union - District 65. It took a bitterly cold winter strike to win a contract and recognition.

In 1951, Ginger moved to Chicago, where she became deeply involved in the African American community. She worked with the Civil Rights Congress, which was actively involved in the Emmett Till case. She also worked with the South Side Community Arts Center and the peace movement. Sandwiched somewhere in between her activist work, Ginger made her living as a bookkeeper, married two times, had a son and returned to New York.

In 1992, Ginger heard about a singing group called the New York City Labor Chorus. She joined as a tenor, thereby combining two of her greatest loves, singing and supporting unions. She served as Section Head for the next few years.

She says the reason she joined the New York City Labor Chorus is that she knew how important a role music has played in unionization and in the civil rights movement. Of her own singing, Ginger says with a toss of her feisty head, "Singing lifts my spirits and makes me feel vibrant and alive." Anyone observing her during a chorus performance would agree. Ginger's musical ability, her sense of commitment and her lively nature have made her one of the Brightest and the Best of the New York City Labor Chorus.