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Agnes (Sis) Cunningham was born 19 February 1909 in Watonga, Okla. After struggling through a childhood of poverty, she attended Oklahoma State College for Women. Following college, Cunningham briefly taught music. In the summer of 1931, she went to Commonwealth College near Mena, Ark., a labor college with socialist views. Cunningham then became an organizer for the Southern Tenant Farmers' Union, and worked as a music instructor at the Southern Summer School for Women Workers near Asheville, N.C. Returning to Oklahoma in 1939, she helped organize the Red Dust Players, a traveling troupe that entertained and sought to mobilize the state's poor with radical songs and skits.

In March 1941, Cunningham met Gordon Elmer Friesen (1909-1996). They were married on 23 July 1941. They moved to New York City and were invited by Pete Seeger to stay at the Almanac House, a three-story house rented by the Almanac Singers, a topical singing group. Cunningham performed with the Almanac Singers and appeared on their album Dear Mr. President . In December 1942, Cunningham and Friesen moved to Detroit to establish a Detroit branch of the Almanacs. They returned to New York City in May 1944, where Friesen worked for the Office of War Information and Cunningham performed and wrote songs for People's Songs, a radical musical organization. Their daughters Jane and Aggie were born in the late 1940s. In the 1950s, the family struggled with health problems, poverty, and battles with the welfare system.

In the early 1960s, Cunningham and Friesen founded Broadside, a magazine devoted to topical songs. Performer and songwriter Gil Turner aided Broadside in its early years. Turner was emcee at Gerde's Folk City, a popular folk club in Greenwich Village. Turner knew many young performers, including Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, and Tom Paxton, and brought them to monthly meetings at Cunningham and Friesen's apartment where they sang songs into a tape recorder. Cunningham transcribed the songs and, with Friesen and Turner, decided which ones to publish. Songwriters began coming to the apartment on their own or sending their taped songs. Broadside quickly emerged as the premier national platform for topical songs.

In 1980, Cunningham and Friesen reluctantly gave up Broadside . In the mid-1980s, a collective of eight people, including Cunningham, Friesen, and their daughter Jane, regained control of the magazine. They produced issue 181 in June 1987 and continued production until issue 187 in late 1988. Cunningham and Friesen's autobiography Red Dust and Broadsides: A Joint Autobiography was published in 1999.

From the guide to the Broadside Collection, 1962-1991, (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Library. Southern Folklife Collection.)

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creatorOf Broadside Collection, 1962-1991 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Library. Southern Folklife Collection.
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