12. “The White Slave” (words: Joe Hill, music: “Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland” / 1913)
Alfred Esteban Cortez – vocals
Recorded by Carlos Cortez, 29 October 1953 in South Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Digitally remastered by Air Show, Springfield, Virginia.
This song emphasizes the economic base of prostitution in contrast to sentimental treatments of the subject in other popular songs of the time. Joe Hill borrowed a love song and wrote about a prostitute; in contrast, in “The Rebel Girl” (for which he is credited as composer as well as lyricist) he took the tune of a song about a prostitute and wrote a song of his respect for the women in the I.W.W.
Alfred Cortez (1880-1961), born in Mazatlan, Mexico, joined the I.W.W. in 1916. Among the songs in his repertoire were many of Joe Hill’s songs, which Cortez played on harmonica as well as sang. His son Carlos Cortez has remained active with the I.W.W. as an artist and a writer for The Industrial Worker. Carlos remembers as a child that people used to come from miles around to ask his father to sing but that when his father recorded this song at the age of seventy-three, “his voice was long past its prime.” Alfred Cortez sang these songs for over forty years, and his is the voice of one of Joe Hill’s contemporaries.
One little girl, fair as a pearl,
Worked every day in the laundry;
All that she made for food she paid,
So she slept on a park bench so soundly;
An old procuress spied her there,
She came and whispered in her ear:
Come with me now my girly,
Don’t sleep out in the cold;
Your face and tresses curly
Will bring you fame and gold,
Automobiles to ride in, diamonds and silks to wear
You’ll be a star bright, down in the red light,
You’ll made your fortune there.
Same little girl, no more a pearl,
Walk all alone ‘long the river,
Five years have flown, her health is gone,
She would look at the water and shiver,
Whene’er she’d stop to rest and sleep,
She’d hear a voice call from the deep:
Girls in this way, fall every day,
And have been falling for ages,
Who is to blame? You know his name,
It’s the boss that pays starvation wages,
A homeless girl can always hear
Temptation calling everywhere.