American Masters – Holly Near: Singing for Our Lives

Air date: 03/01/2019

THIRTEEN’s American Masters Presents the Story of Pioneering Feminist Singer-Activist Holly Near March 1 on PBS in Honor of Women’s History Month

Documentary features new interviews with Jane Fonda, Gloria Steinem, Kevin Bacon, the late Ronnie Gilbert of The Weavers and more


An outspoken political activist and singer-songwriter, Holly Near’s music and life story illustrate how song can have the power to send a clarion call and influence the course of social justice – from the lesbian and women’s movements to anti-war efforts and the fight to give South American women a voice. American Masters – Holly Near: Singing for Our Lives explores how the activist-artist provided an inspiring soundtrack to nearly a half-century of global and local struggles for equality and change. Directed by four-time Emmy Award-winner Jim Brown (American Masters — The Highwaymen: Friends Til The End, American Masters – Pete Seeger: The Power of Song), the documentary premieres nationwide Friday, March 1 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings) in honor of Women’s History Month and will be available to stream the following day via and PBS apps.

In addition to new interviews with Near, the film features insights from the performer’s friends, family and collaborators in music and the social justice movement, including Jane Fonda, Gloria Steinem, the late Ronnie Gilbert of The Weavers, her cousin, actor Kevin Bacon, the late author, activist and politician Tom Hayden, pianist and composer Jeff Langley, her sister Timothy Near, singer-songwriter and Women on Wheels tourmate Margie Adam, her Redwood Records partner, activist and author Torie Osborn, musician and founder of the Berkeley Women’s Music Collective Nancy Vogl and more.

American Masters – Holly Near: Singing for Our Lives tells the tale of a talented performer whose virtuoso vocals and songwriting inspired generations of people working to “bend the arc of justice forward.” From Free the Army tour performances with Jane Fonda to million-person global peace rallies, from women-only concerts and sold-out shows with Ronnie Gilbert to midnight marches against campus sexual assault or police brutality, Near’s on-stage charisma and songwriting have captured, fueled and melded together social change movements, spreading new feminism, gender identity, lesbian politics and more since the 1960s. Best known for her coming-out anthem “Imagine My Surprise” and the LGBT movement anthem “Singing for Our Lives,” written after Harvey Milk’s assassination, Near was also at the forefront of DIY music recording and distribution, founding Redwood Records in her home in 1976 to support the release of her first album, “Hang in There.” One of the pioneering independent record companies run by women, Redwood Records was active for 18 years and sold over 1.5 million records by lesbian and politically-conscious artists from around the world. Early in her career, Near was an actress with roles in “The Partridge Family,” “All in the Family,” “Hair” on Broadway and more.

Special encore presentations of Marilyn Mellowes’ documentary about Julia Child, American Masters: Julia! America’s Favorite Chef, and Timothy Greenfield-Sanders’ American Masters: The Women’s List, about 15 women who have created and defined contemporary American culture, air March 2019 on PBS (check local listings) in honor of Women’s History Month.

Launched in 1986 on PBS, American Masters has earned 28 Emmy Awards — including 10 for Outstanding Non-Fiction Series and five for Outstanding Non-Fiction Special — 13 Peabodys, an Oscar, three Grammys, two Producers Guild Awards and many other honors. To further explore the lives and works of masters past and present, American Masters offers streaming video of select films, outtakes, filmmaker interviews, the American Masters Podcast, educational resources and more. The series is a production of THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC for WNET and also seen on the WORLD channel.

American Masters – Holly Near: Singing for Our Lives is a production of Jim Brown Productions in association with American Masters Pictures. Jim Brown is director and producer. Donna Korones is executive producer and producer. Heather A. Smith is producer. Michael Kantor is American Masters series executive producer.

Major support for American Masters is provided by AARP. Additional support provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Rosalind P. Walter, Seton Melvin, Ellen and James S. Marcus, Vital Projects Fund, Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, The Blanche & Irving Laurie Foundation, The Philip and Janice Levin Foundation, the Lillian Goldman Programming Endowment, Judith and Burton Resnick, the André and Elizabeth Kertész Foundation, and public television viewers.

Additional funding for American Masters – Holly Near: Singing for Our Lives is provided in part by Dale Leibowitz, Karen Dixon & Nan Schaffer, Jackie deMeglio, Jody and John Arnhold, Gregory Maquire, JT Mason and Gretchen Hausman, and Mary Ford.


Websites:,, @PBSAmerMasters,,, #AmericanMastersPBS


About WNET

WNET is America’s flagship PBS station: parent company of New York’s THIRTEEN and WLIW21 and operator of NJTV, the statewide public media network in New Jersey. Through its new ALL ARTS multi-platform initiative, its broadcast channels, three cable services (THIRTEEN PBSKids, Create and World) and online streaming sites, WNET brings quality arts, education and public affairs programming to more than five million viewers each month. WNET produces and presents a wide range of acclaimed PBS series, including Nature, Great Performances, American Masters, PBS NewsHour Weekend, and the nightly interview program Amanpour and Company. In addition, WNET produces numerous documentaries, children’s programs, and local news and cultural offerings, as well as multi-platform initiatives addressing poverty and climate. Through THIRTEEN Passport and WLIW Passport, station members can stream new and archival THIRTEEN, WLIW and PBS programming anytime, anywhere.


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Holly Near. Credit: Susan Wilson

Holly Near. Credit: Irene Young

Holly Near. Credit: Margaret Randall

Holly Near. Credit: Susan Wilson

Holly Near, 2018. Credit: Irene Young

Holly Near. Credit: Irene Young

Holly Near. Credit: Courtesy Holly Near

Holly Near. Credit: Courtesy Holly Near

Holly Near. Credit: Irene Young

Holly Near and Jane Fonda onstage at Indochina Peace Campaign. Credit: Courtesy Holly Near photographer unknown

Holly Near at ERA Rally. Credit: Courtesy Holly Near photographer unknown

Holly Near at a rally in San Francisco circa 1970s. Credit: Courtesy Holly Near photographer unknown

Holly Near. Credit: Jerry Rubino

Holly Near, Odetta and Ronnie Gilbert onstage Redwood Records Music Festival 1992. Credit: Jerry Rubino

Holly Near receiving ACLU award. Credit: Courtesy Holly Near