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Wisconsin Band Didn't Mean to Play a Pro-Union Anthem For the Rose Parade Grandstands

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When a high school marching band from Wisconsin stopped in front of the Rose Parade grand stands where TV cameras were rolling last Monday, they began playing a tune that sounded familiar to Daily Kos contributor AnnieJo: it was the pro-union anthem "Union Maid" by Woody Guthrie.

The song features a chorus that goes: "Oh, you can't scare me, I'm sticking to the union...until the day I die." Was the marching band sticking it to Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, who was in town to watch the Badgers play the Ducks in the Rose Bowl, for his policies quashing collective bargaining rights of unions on national television?

But that's the thing about reworked folk songs based on traditional tunes. Guthrie's lyrics to "Union Maid" come from the "Red Wing Polka," a song about an Indian maid—which is what the band director intended to play. It stirred up a minor controversy in the Pulaski, Wisconsin, where the band is from. This week the district superintendent released a statement letting everyone know the band director didn't intend to send any sort of political statement at the Rose Parade — he just wanted to play a polka his grandmother loved. (The song in question starts around the 1:20-minute mark.)

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“He wasn’t aware there were any lyrics to it," the superintendent Mel Lightner said, according to the Green Bay Press Gazette. “We thought it was the ‘Red Wing Polka,’ and I believe that’s how it was listed on the itinerary. The reason he selected it was it was his grandmother’s favorite polka. I don’t know when they added the lyrics to it."