The merging of flashmobs and protest songs that has blossomed with the Occupy movement and related efforts to re-empower people has had me thinking a lot about the Hutchinson Family Singers. Originally from Milford, New Hampshire, this talented musical family is widely recognized as the progenitors of the 20th century protest-song phenomenon. They were avowed abolitionists who embraced and proclaimed temperance and other reform movements in the years before the Civil War. The popularity of the group and their music spread their message across the deepening political divisions in the United States. Over a span of four decades, various combinations of family members (including, eventually, children and grandchildren) performed at protests and in prisons as well as on stages across the US and Great Britain.
The original traveling version of the family was a quartet of Judson, John, Asa and Abby. Abby’s voice and musical talents had attracted attention from her childhood, reportedly people traveled to the family farm to hear her sing when she was barely more than a toddler; she gave her first public performance when she was ten. When the brothers went on the road, Abby was not only the lead singer but the big attraction. Just sixteen when the family toured England and Scotland, she was highly praised by the British press.
All the Hutchinsons played instruments and sang, several, including Abby, also composed music. There are a number of their songs available on Youtube, however I don’t know if there are any audio recordings of the Hutchinsons themselves performing. (The family performed into the 1880s, so they could have just overlapped with Edison’s recording technology.)
Abby married in 1849 and after that only sang in public for special occasions, but music remained an important part of her life. She sang at the funeral of John Greenleaf Whittier in September of 1892, just a month after an impromptu public performance, with her brother John and Frederick Douglass for 10,000 people gathered at the New Hampshire State House.
Scott Gac’s Singing For Freedom is a well-researched and eminently readable book about the Hutchinsons.
This webpage has a lot of detail about the family.
A nice piece about Abby (genealogy sites are great sources for biographers).
Aramanth Publishing has an interesting page about the Hutchinsons and offers a sheet music package for sale.