Legendary Pittsburgh-based folk singer and labor activist Anne Feeney died of complications from COVID-19 on February 3, 2021, at age 69. Anne was the beloved wife of Julie Leonardsson, mother of Amy Berlin and Daniel Berlin, mother-in-law of Monique Murad, grandmother of Sebastian and Nicholas Berlin, sister of Kathleen Feeney, and aunt of Kimberly Sever.
Anne was born in Charleroi, Pa., in 1951 to Edward J. Feeney and Anabelle Feeney, née Runner, and grew up in Brookline, Pa. Her grandfather, William Patrick Feeney, was a labor organizer with the United Mine Workers of America. Anne’s Irish roots heavily influenced her music and life. The annual St. Patrick’s Day parties she hosted in Edgewood with her then-husband, Ronald Berlin, were the stuff of local legend. Later on in her life, she hosted several cultural tours of Ireland, taking groups to visit influential poets, activists, and musicians.
Anne devoted her life to social justice, working first as a lawyer, then as a musician, always seeking to defend the rights of the working class. Anne bought a Martin D28 guitar in high school, taught herself to play, and spent the rest of her life writing and performing songs about unions, protest movements, and civil rights. She was a fixture at venues ranging from picket lines, to bars, to performances for hundreds of thousands of rally-goers on the National Mall. Her mentors included Utah Philips, Pete Seeger, Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary, and Faith Petric, all of whom sang Anne’s praises and her songs. Peter, Paul and Mary recorded Anne’s social justice anthem, “Have You Been to Jail for Justice,” which is still sung at protests around the globe.
Anne defied all of the odds associated with a small-cell lung cancer diagnosis in 2010. Although given only months to live, Anne spent the next decade welcoming the births of her two grandsons, visiting family and friends in Ecuador, Zimbabwe, Mexico, Sweden and Ireland, and of course, singing and performing as often as she could.
In line with her wishes, Anne will be laid to rest in a private ceremony at the Union Miners Cemetery in Mount Olive, Illinois, nearby the grave of her hero, Mary Harris “Mother” Jones. There will be a public celebration of her life scheduled in Pittsburgh in the fall of 2021, as well as numerous online memorials at dates TBD.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests a donation in Anne’s honor to the Thomas Merton Center, 5129 Penn Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15224 or at https://www.thomasmertoncenter.org/membership-and-donation.
Arrangements were in charge of Patrick T. Lanigan Funeral Home and Crematory, Inc.
Originally published February 08, 2021.