Category Archives: The People’s Music: Pete Seeger

An informal memorial to Pete Seeger, whose music changed lives for the better.

Sing Out! Lessons from the Extraordinary Life of Pete Seeger

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Sing Out! Lessons from the Extraordinary Life of Pete Seeger

Kathy M. Newman

Like thousands of fellow Americans, I have spent the last week listening to Pete Seeger’s recordings, poring over his many obits, and inhaling Alec Wilkinson’s wonderful short biography, The Protest Singer: An Intimate Portrait of Pete Seeger. http://www.amazon.com/The-Protest-Singer-Intimate-Portrait/dp/B008SM00T8 With this work behind me, I offer seven lessons that those of us committed to working-class justice and working-class studies can glean from Seeger’s extraordinary life. Scholars of working-class culture have a lot to offer working-class movements.

Some of Seeger’s first paid work was for the legendary folk music authority, John Lomax. As Wilkinson notes in his bio of Seeger, each week Seeger listened to hundreds of records at the Library of Congress—“English and Scotch Irish ballads kept alive in the South, rural blues, farmer songs, widow’s laments, millworker songs, soldier songs, sea shanties, slave songs, tramp songs, and coal miner songs.” By the end of Seeger’s time in the archive, he had flagged a collection of protest songs that he wanted to make into a book, but “his father thought it too controversial.” But soon enough Seeger found someone like himself, Lee Hays, who had “compiled a book of union songs.” Hays and his roommate, Mill Lampell, along with Woody Guthrie, became the nucleus of Seeger’s first band: The Almanacs. Embrace the relationship between music and social movements. Seeger believed that if you could get a crowd to join in a song, you could get a crowd to join in a movement. Like his father, Charles Seeger, who argued that “to make music is the essential thing—to listen to it is an accessory (http://books.google.com/books?id=LRP0Q7LJU_IC&pg=PA145&dq=to+make+music+is+the+essential+thing%E2%80%94to+listen+to+it+is+an+accessory&hl=en&sa=X&ei=GQbvUsGzKKiSyQHJ04GgBQ&ved=0CDYQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=to%20make%20music%20is%20the%20essential%20thing%E2%80%94to%20listen%20to%20it%20is%20an%20accessory&f=false) ,” Pete Seeger believed that song brought the individual out of the self and into something larger: “I’ve never sung anywhere without giving the people listening to me a chance to join in—as a kid, as a lefty, as a man touring the U.S.A. and the world, as an oldster. I guess it’s kind of a religion with me. Participation. That’s what’s going to save the human race (http://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2014/01/30/medium_for_pete_seegers_message_was_the_singalong_salutin.html) .” Of course, Seeger could have chosen other vehicles for participation, but he believed that there was something special about songs. “Songs,” he explained, “are a way of binding people to a cause.” It’s OK to be middle class. Seeger came from a family of “doctors, shopkeepers, and intellectuals.” (http://books.google.com/books?id=NnMD-pefZQcC&pg=PA29&dq=doctors,+shopkeepers,+and+intellectuals+%22pete+seeger&hl=en&sa=X&ei=7vzuUpuiOc-zsASHlIDIBA&ved=0CCkQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=doctors%2C%20shopkeepers%2C%20and%20intellectuals%20%22pete%20seeger&f=false) His parents were also classically trained musicians who divorced when he was young. But even Seeger’s step-mother encouraged him, noticing that he had a special talent for “song leading.” Seeger went to a boarding school in Connecticut, and, later, Harvard, which he did not like. After Harvard, Seeger made the transition from scholar of working-class culture to maker/participant. The Almanacs were so named because every working-class home had two books (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Almanac_Singers) : a bible for the next life and an almanac for this one. Seeger’s next band, The Weavers, was named for a play by German author Gerhart Hauptmann about a group of Silesian (now Poland) weavers who rebelled against the mechanization of their craft in the 1840s. Seeger, who was not from a working-class family, was a champion of workers, workers’ folk traditions, unions, the labor movement, and the dignity of work. Moreover, he was embraced by workers wherever he went, from the CIO struggles in Pittsburgh and Detroit in the 1940s, to the postal workers organizing against the hiring of non-union workers in 2014. (http://www.salon.com/2014/01/29/he_got_people_singing_remembering_pete_seeger_with_my_dad/) Make stuff with your own hands. On the other hand, perhaps, Seeger might have been a voluntary member of the working class. In the 1940s, he bought a piece of land next to the Hudson River for $1700 (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/29/arts/music/pete-seeger-songwriter-and-champion-of-folk-music-dies-at-94.html?_r=0) .There he built his own log cabin. It took him several tries to get the giant stone fireplace right, but as he was finishing it he placed a few of the rocks thrown at him in the infamous Paul Robeson/Peekskill riots (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peekskill_Riots) in the structure as a reminder. To build furniture for the house, Wilkinson writes, Seeger scavenged the wood from abandoned packing crates in New York City on his way home from singing gigs. By mastering the world with his hands, Seeger was able to connect the future of the human race to the future of the planet: “If it can’t be reduced, reused, repaired, rebuilt, refurbished, refinished, resold, recycled or composted, then it should be restricted, redesigned or removed from production (http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/30113.Pete_Seeger) .” You have to choose sides, but you can have as many causes as you like. Seeger embraced every progressive American cause, from the labor struggles of the 1930s and 1940s, to the Civil Rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s, to environmentalism, the anti-war movement, the AIDs epidemic, and even the 2011 Occupy Movement. There were songs that explained how to negotiate and use a union to improve your life on the job (Talking Union Blues (http://www.peteseeger.net/talkunion.htm) ) and songs about union towns, their smog and their devotion to the CIO (Pittsburgh (http://lyrics.wikia.com/Pete_Seeger:Pittsburgh_Town) ). There were songs about how to build stuff with your own hands (If I had a Hammer) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/If_I_Had_a_Hammer) and songs about how to keep hope in the face of racial oppression (We Shall Overcome (http://www.pbs.org/wnet/gperf/episodes/pete-seegers-90th-birthday-celebration-from-madison-square-garden/we-shall-overcome/820/) ). There were songs about heroic and legendary black workers (John Henry (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A9Zt0O2lyhk) ) and songs about women union organizers (Union Maid (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kz40LZHO0lI) ) and songs about how America belongs to all of us (This Land is Our Land (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HE4H0k8TDgw) ). There were songs about the Hudson river, which he was instrumental in cleaning up (Sailing Up my Dirty Stream (http://www.peteseeger.net/dirtystre.htm) ), and songs about the Vietnam war (Waist Deep in the Big Muddy (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uXnJVkEX8O4) ), and even songs condemning Stalin (Big Joe Blues (http://unionsong.com/u580.html) ). You can have a long, productive life if you do not define your success according to the market. Seeger famously testified in front of HUAC in 1955, refusing to answer any questions that violated his right to religion, free speech, and association. He has jokingly called this moment a “relief,” because the fame he was experiencing with The Weavers was overwhelming him. By contrast, for most blacklisted artists, the 1950s were a nightmare. Some betrayed their former friends and comrades, others died from the stress. Some left the country, some wrote under false names, and many languished without a steady livelihood for years. Seeger was undaunted by more than a decades’ worth of rebuff from HUAC, anti-communists who canceled his performance contracts and picketed his concerts, and TV executives who refused to let him perform on television. Seeger simply kept singing, accepting invitations from any group that would have him, year after year, until mainstream American culture finally accepted Seeger’s unique sound. Think small. Perhaps you are a union organizer, trying to get a little more justice for your members. Perhaps you are a graduate student writing about worker struggles, or worker culture. Perhaps you have a bit of talent on an instrument, and you perform for money or just gather with friends to raise your voices in unison. Whatever you are doing, no matter how small it might seem, it matters. Seeger tells us: “Too many things can go wrong when they get big.” Instead, he insists, “The world will be solved by millions of small things (http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/30113.Pete_Seeger) .” ============================================================ Copyright © 2014 Ed Pearl- The Ash Grove

Pete Seeger Elegy

by Olivia LaRosa
February 1, 2014

My heart is warmed by the outpouring of love humanity has demonstrated toward Pete Seeger. When people nominated him for the Nobel Prize, I cheered. The people who move us towards cooperation and sharing are too often ignored during their lifetimes. Pete knew that we loved him.

He lived for 35 years past his active musical career, which spanned more than 60 years. He began to travel with his musical parents, both university professors in music, before he was two years old. His entire life was dedicated to spreading love and truth through his banjo.

To honor him further we are collecting the memories of those who saw him, met him, and knew him. Pete would be the last to expect us to engage in hero worship. He would rather we go out and tell the truth the best way we can, like he did.

The Ash Grove: Sandy Carter in Z Magazine: Celebrating Pete Seeger

Daily Digest Sandy Carter in Z Magazine: Celebrating Pete Seeger Hi. Yesterday’s NY Times obit was written just after news of Pete’s death, just three readers had commented. As of late last night, there were more than 11,000. This review below gives a much deeper understanding of Pete, his guiding philosophy and politics, as well as of history, folk music and the times, as they change. It’s one to save. -Ed http://zcomm.org/zmagazine/celebrating-pete-seeger-by-sandy-carter/ http://zcomm.org/zmag Celebrating Pete Seeger By Sandy Carter (http://zcomm.org/author/sandycarter/) April 1, 1998 http://zcomm.org/zmagazine/celebrating-pete-seeger-by-sandy-carter/ Posted in: Activism (http://zcomm.org/category/topic/activism/) , Africa (http://zcomm.org/category/place/africa/) , Asia (http://zcomm.org/category/place/asia/) , Canada (http://zcomm.org/category/place/north-america/canada/) , Caribbean (http://zcomm.org/category/place/latin-america/caribbean/) , Cuba (http://zcomm.org/category/place/latin-america/cuba/) , Ecology (http://zcomm.org/category/topic/ecology/) , Europe (http://zcomm.org/category/place/europe/) , Human Rights (http://zcomm.org/category/topic/social-policy/human-rights/) , North America (http://zcomm.org/category/place/north-america/) , South Africa (http://zcomm.org/category/place/africa/south-africa/) Our songs are like you and me, the product of a long human chain… —Pete Seeger Ever since the radical tradition of American folk music incubated in the 1930s, a loosely defined, loosely tied “folk music community” has inspired strains of popular music linked to radical politics and struggles for social justice. In musical forms such as blues, gospel, work songs, traditional ballads and old-time country sounds, left-wing musicians, and activists have discovered and cultivated authentic “people’s music” giving voice to the experiences of ordinary men and women. The progressive social tradition embedded in American folk music is, however, much more than a body of songs or musical style. The folk community has long been defined by certain attitudes about how music should be made. In “true” folk music there are no superstar celebrities or hits, no big distinctions between performers and audience, no elaborate musical productions. Folk places emphasis on lyrics and the human voice. Its subject matter is the totality of real life. The aesthetic measure of quality is more emotional honesty than musical technique. In sum, the left folk tradition is explicitly opposed to the conventions of “commercial” or mass music making. At the end of the 20th century with historical amnesia rampant, no popular political rebellion on the horizon, and so many of the songs of Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly circulating in the mainstream of American cultural life, it is difficult to recall a time when folksingers or folk music could be considered subversive or worthy of repression. But with the release of the double CD compilation Where Have All The Flowers Gone: The Songs Of Pete Seeger (Appleseed Recordings), the music of one of the great torch bearers of alternative music making renews the spirit of radical song. Celebrating Seeger’s remarkable six-decade career as a folksinger/activist, Where Have All The Flowers Gone draws together a broad array of progressive minded musicians to perform songs and poems Seeger has penned or sung in his efforts to chronicle a people’s history through music and encourage the struggles of labor, anti-war and civil rights movements, environmentalists, and any number of other fights against injustice. Well known performers such as Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Springsteen, the Indigo Girls, Nanci Griffith, Roger McGuinn, Ani Difranco, and actor Tim Robbins are on hand to pay homage and draw attention to the Seeger legacy. But the 39 performances on this deeply moving collection also pulls in a sterling cast of lesser known multicultural activist artists from around the globe and across generations. Author Studs Terkel and singer Ronnie Gilbert (a Seeger colleague in the Weavers) are among the elders. Sweet Honey In The Rock, Guy Davis, Tish Hinojosa, and John Trudell bring the sounds of black gospel, blues, Mexican folk, and spoken word to the program. The international delegation includes Tommy Sands and Delores Keane (Ireland), cellist Vedran Smailovic (Bosnia), Dick Gaughan (Scotland), Bruce Cockburn (Canada), and Billy Bragg (England). One of Pete Seeger’s great contributions to the folk world has been his ability to unearth traditional songs along with their social and historical roots. Viewing song as a bridge to other times, other cultures, and a vibrant connection between the past and present, he then brings to his concert performances a masterful weave of anecdotes and music evoking a common humanity and shared social vision. On Where Have All The Flowers Gone, the stories behind the songs are provided by liner note comments by Seeger, various artists, and producer Jim Musselman. While the humor and generous humanitarian spirit of Seeger’s live shows is missed, the song performances are consistently strong and imbued with the conviction and integrity associated with the Seeger name. The stunning title track opens disc one, with Belfast singer/peace worker Tommy Sands and the legendary Irish vocalist Dolores Keane blending their voices in a quiet, anguished prayer for peace against a vocal backdrop of Catholic and Protestant school children, haunting uillean pipes and accordion, and the mournful cello of Vedran Smailovic. Though not well known in the U.S., Smailovic gained worldwide attention when he refused to stop playing his cello on the streets of Sarajevo after his opera theater was destroyed and 22 of his neighbors died from a mortar attack. Asked by a CNN reporter if he was crazy for playing music with bombs falling, Smailovic replied, “You ask me am I crazy for playing the cello, why do you not ask if they are crazy for shelling Sarajevo?” Such a poignant performance sets a high standard for everything that follows, but this is an album loaded with inspiring, heartfelt music. The everlasting hymn of hope, “We Shall Overcome,” is interpreted with stirring dignity by Bruce Springsteen. Ani Difranco’s restrained rendering of “My Name Is Lisa Kalvelage” (the true story of a woman who stopped a Vietnam bound shipment of napalm by refusing to leave a loading platform), and Dick Gaughan’s angry take on the anti-Vietnam “Waist Deep In The Big Muddy” burn with timeless relevance. With an eerie vocal mix and drums and guitars crackling, the Indigo Girls translate the biblically inspired “Letter To Eve” as a feminist anthem for peace. Santee Sioux poet/activist John Trudell delivers a tough, personalized rendering of “The Torn Flag,” nailing hypocrisies and broken promises to a tarnished symbol of freedom. Other highlights such as the reggae flavored duet of Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt on “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine”; John Gorka’s melodic, delicate singing on “The Water Is Wide”; Studs Terkel’s readings of “Oh Sacred World” and “Blessed Be The Nation”; Greg Brown’s loving version of “Sailing Down My Golden River”; and the profound soulfulness of Odetta on “One Grain Of Sand,” suggest the enormous scope and versatility of Seeger’s writing. However, even with nearly two and a half hours of music, Where Have All The Flower Gone is still a slim introduction to the Seeger heritage. Born in New York City in 1919 to musicologist Charles Seeger and concert violinist Constance Edson Seeger, Pete Seeger discovered his musical interest early on, picking up ukulele, guitar, and banjo by his teenage years and finding, at age 15, a developing interest in folk music. After a brief two years at Harvard, he dropped out of college in 1938, wandering about New England painting barns and houses, touring New York state with a puppeteer troupe, and joining with other musicians playing concerts and rallies in support of a dairy farmers union. After a short stint as an assistant to folklorist Alan Lomax, then organizing a Library of Congress Archive Of American Folk Songs, Seeger’s life took a decisive turn. In 1940, when he hooked up with Woody Guthrie in New York after performing at a benefit in support of California migrant farm workers, Seeger’s politics were socialist and he was intent on advancing his views through music. In Guthrie he had a kindred spirit and together they took off across the country paying their way with “the music of the people.” After splitting up, Seeger continued hoboing by himself, along the way polishing performance skills, absorbing songs, and writing a few of his own. By 1941, with Guthrie, Lee Hays and Millard Lampell, he had formed the Almanac Singers to fuse traditional folk music with social protest focused on contemporary issues. The group performed at union rallies and leftist fundraisers and recorded two albums, Songs For John Doe and Talking Union And Other Union Songs, before disbanding shortly after the United States entered World War II. Drafted into the army in 1942 and serving in the Pacific, Seeger continued to collect traditional American songs of all kinds. Following the war, he helped launch Sing Out! The Folk Magazine to encourage social protest and the folk revival. The key turning point for the folk movement, however, occurred in 1948 when Seeger, Lee Hays, Ronnie Gilbert, and Fred Hellerman convened the Weavers. Within three years the folk quartet sold four million records, while popularizing Leadbelly’s “Goodnight Irene,” Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land,” and the South African song “Wimoweh” (appearing on Where Have All The Flowers Gone in a 1980 version recorded at a Weavers reunion concert). In the wake of McCarthyism, the fortunes of the Weavers changed drastically. Finding themselves blacklisted from radio, television, and many concert halls, the group broke up in 1953. Seeger continued to record as a solo artist on Moe Asch’s Folkways label, but in 1955 he was subpoenaed by the House Committee On Un-American Activities. While offering to discuss his songs or perform for the committee so that they might better understand his work, he cited the First Amendment and refused to talk about his politics. Though his conviction for Contempt of Congress was overturned by higher courts in 1961, Seeger was effectively blacklisted from the mass media for 17 years. Nonetheless, with the folk revival and political turmoil of the 1960s, cover versions of Seeger songs (“If I Had A Hammer,” “Where Have All The Flowers Gone,” “Turn, Turn, Turn,” “Bells Of Rhymney”) became chart toppers. With his appearances on college campuses, and at civil rights and anti-war demonstrations, he was again on the front lines of social change, becoming in the process a cultural hero of unquestioned integrity. Decades later, constant touring and crusading have kept that image intact. His songs have traveled over the face of the earth provoking empathy, compassion, thought, and resistance. With a steady output of recordings, he has produced a rich and vast catalog of traditional songs that stands as a national treasure. Skimming through Seeger’s discography, one will find collections of children’s songs, love songs, frontier ballads, civil war tunes, Christmas carols, Leadbelly and Guthrie songs, blues, banjo instruction, nature songs, industrial protest ballads, Bantu choral folk songs, old time fiddle tunes, and numerous other gems imparting hidden or forgotten people’s history. With this huge body of work in mind, Appleseed Recordings founder Jim Musselman promises to release at least another two volumes of Seeger material. Though much of his work (including classic live performances) remains in print, the varied interpretations of his songs on Where Have All The Flowers Gone demonstrate the enduring vitality of his music and message. Whether dressed in the “epic theatre” tradition of Bertolt Brecht, the plain garments of traditional folk, or the multicolored hues of rock, jazz, and gospel, Seeger’s “sound” is humanity. Though he is a teacher of a brand of American history not taught in schools and a living link to a legendary community of singers (Paul Robeson, Earl Robinson, Aunt Molly Jackson, Sara Orgon Gunning, Guthrie, Cisco Houston, Leadbelly, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee, to mention a few) whose mission expressed specific historical concerns, his music is of the ages, conveying an abiding faith in an egalitarian dream. Appropriately, Where Have All The Flowers Gone gives Seeger the final track, “And Still I Am Searching,” to sing his message in his own voice: And I’m still searching Yes I’m still searching For a way we all can learn To build a world where we all can share The work, the fun, the food, the space, the joy, the pain and no one ever ever need or seek to be a millionaire. Appleseed Recordings is a genuine independent label, not a subsidiary of a major entertainment corporation. Appleseed accepts no corporate or outside funding, and donates a percentage of its profits to environmental, human rights, and other progressive organizations. 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The Ash Grove: NY Times: Pete Seeger, Songwriter and Champion of Folk Music, Dies at 94

NY Times: Pete Seeger, Songwriter and Champion of Folk Music, Dies at 94

This obituary has complementary material and focus than Ross or Democracy Now’s presentations. -Ed

** Pete Seeger, Songwriter and Champion of Folk Music, Dies at 94 ———————————————————— By JON PARELES (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/p/jon_pareles/index.html) JAN. 28, 2014 Inside View slide show|14 Photos ** Pete Seeger: A Life Lived in the Power of Song ———————————————————— Pete Seeger (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/s/pete_seeger/index.html?inline=nyt-per), the singer, folk-song collector and songwriter who spearheaded an American folk revival and spent a long career championing folk music as both a vital heritage and a catalyst for social change, died Monday. He was 94 and lived in Beacon, N.Y. His death was confirmed by his grandson, Kitama Cahill Jackson, who said he died of natural causes at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. Mr. Seeger’s career carried him from singing at labor rallies to the Top 10 to college auditoriums to folk festivals, and from a conviction for contempt of Congress (after defying the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s) to performing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at an inaugural concert for Barack Obama. For Mr. Seeger, folk music and a sense of community were inseparable, and where he saw a community, he saw the possibility of political action.

** Related in Opinion (http://www.nytimes.com/pages/opinion/index.html) ———————————————————— * http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/01/28/pete-seeger-is-gone-but-his-circles-of-song-ring-on/ ** Dot Earth Blog: Pete Seeger is Gone, but His Circles of Song Ring OnJAN. 28, 2014 (http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/01/28/pete-seeger-is-gone-but-his-circles-of-song-ring-on/)

Pete played a concert in Ithaca NY on an extremely cold night in the winter of 1970 at a small hall holding less than 2,000 people. At 11PM,… ** Lance Diskan ———————————————————— 16 minutes ago

No words – even song – can capture the deep, pervasive impact of Pete Seeger’s life on America and our planet. A person of authentic… ** D. Annie ———————————————————— 16 minutes ago

We have lost a fine man. He would want us to pick up and carry on. He wanted us all to sing along, not watch him perform alone. There is… * See All Comments * Write a comment In his hearty tenor, Mr. Seeger, a beanpole of a man who most often played 12-string guitar or five-string banjo, sang topical songs and children’s songs, humorous tunes and earnest anthems, always encouraging listeners to join in. His agenda paralleled the concerns of the American left: He sang for the labor movement in the 1940s and 1950s, for civil rights marches and anti-Vietnam War rallies in the 1960s, and for environmental and antiwar causes in the 1970s and beyond. “We Shall Overcome,” which Mr. Seeger adapted from old spirituals, became a civil rights anthem. Mr. Seeger was a prime mover in the folk revival that transformed popular music in the 1950s. As a member of the Weavers, he sang hits including Lead Belly’s “Goodnight, Irene” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jj3s8qq3kU4) — which reached No. 1 — and “If I Had a Hammer,” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rl-yszPdRTk) which he wrote with the group’s Lee Hays. Another of Mr. Seeger’s songs, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?,” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TXqTf8DU6a0) became an antiwar standard. And in 1965, the Byrds had a No. 1 hit with a folk-rock version of “Turn! Turn! Turn!,” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W4ga_M5Zdn4) Mr. Seeger’s setting of a passage from the Book of Ecclesiastes. Mr. Seeger was a mentor to younger folk and topical singers in the ‘50s and ‘60s, among them Bob Dylan, Don McLean and Bernice Johnson Reagon, who founded Sweet Honey in the Rock. Decades later, Bruce Springsteen drew the songs on his 2006 album, “We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions,” from Mr. Seeger’s repertoire of traditional music about a turbulent American experience, and in 2009 he performed Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” with Mr. Seeger at the Obama inaugural (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g5KnYADCSms) . At a Madison Square Garden concert celebrating Mr. Seeger’s 90th birthday, Mr. Springsteen introduced him as “a living archive of America’s music and conscience, a testament of the power of song and culture to nudge history along.” Although he recorded more than 100 albums, Mr. Seeger distrusted commercialism and was never comfortable with the idea of stardom. He invariably tried to use his celebrity to bring attention and contributions to the causes that moved him, or to the traditional songs he wanted to preserve. Mr. Seeger saw himself as part of a continuing folk tradition, constantly recycling and revising music that had been honed by time. During the McCarthy era Mr. Seeger’s political affiliations, including membership in the Communist Party in the 1940s, led to his being blacklisted and later indicted for contempt of Congress. The pressure broke up the Weavers, and Mr. Seeger disappeared from television until the late 1960s. But he never stopped recording, performing and listening to songs from ordinary people. Through the decades, his songs have become part of America’s folklore. “My job,” he said in 2009, “is to show folks there’s a lot of good music in this world, and if used right it may help to save the planet.” Peter Seeger was born on May 3, 1919, to Charles Seeger, a musicologist, and Constance de Clyver Edson Seeger, a concert violinist. His parents later divorced. He began playing the ukulele while attending Avon Old Farms, a private boarding school in Connecticut. His father and his stepmother, the composer Ruth Crawford Seeger, were collecting and transcribing rural American folk music, as were folklorists like John and Alan Lomax. He heard the five-string banjo, which would become his main instrument, when his father took him to a square-dance festival in North Carolina. Young Pete became enthralled by rural traditions. “I liked the strident vocal tone of the singers, the vigorous dancing,” he is quoted in “How Can I Keep From Singing,” a biography by David Dunaway. “The words of the songs had all the meat of life in them. Their humor had a bite, it was not trivial. Their tragedy was real, not sentimental.” Planning to be a journalist, Mr. Seeger attended Harvard, where he founded a radical newspaper and joined the Young Communist League. After two years, he dropped out and came to New York City, where Mr. Lomax introduced him to the blues singer Huddie Ledbetter, known as Lead Belly. Mr. Lomax also helped Mr. Seeger find a job cataloging and transcribing music at the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress. Mr. Seeger met Mr. Guthrie, a songwriter who shared his love of vernacular music and agitprop ambitions, in 1940, when they performed at a benefit concert for migrant California workers. Traveling across the United States with Mr. Guthrie, Mr. Seeger picked up some of his style and repertory. He also hitchhiked and hopped freight trains by himself, trading and learning songs. When he returned to New York later in 1940, Mr. Seeger made his first albums. He, Millard Lampell and Mr. Hays founded the Almanac Singers, who performed union songs and, until Germany invaded the Soviet Union, antiwar songs, following the Communist Party line. Mr. Guthrie soon joined the group. During World War II (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/subjects/w/world_war_ii_/index.html?inline=nyt-classifier) the Almanac Singers’s repertory turned to patriotic, antifascist songs, bringing them a broad audience, including a prime-time national radio spot. But the group’s earlier antiwar songs, the target of an F.B.I. investigation, came to light, and the group’s career plummeted. Before the group completely dissolved, however, Mr. Seeger was drafted in 1942 and assigned to a unit of performers. He married Toshi-Aline Ohta while on furlough in 1943. When he returned from the war he founded People’s Songs Inc., which published political songs and presented concerts for several years before going bankrupt. He also started his nightclub career, performing at the Village Vanguard in Greenwich Village. Mr. Seeger and Paul Robeson toured with the campaign of Henry Wallace, the Progressive Party presidential candidate, in 1948. Mr. Seeger invested $1,700 in 17 acres of land overlooking the Hudson River in Beacon and began building a log cabin there in the late 1940s. In 1949, Mr. Seeger, Mr. Hays, Ronnie Gilbert and Fred Hellerman started working together as the Weavers. They were signed to Decca Records by Gordon Jenkins, the company’s music director and an arranger for Frank Sinatra. With Mr. Jenkins’s elaborate orchestral arrangements, the group recorded a repertoire that stretched from “If I Had a Hammer” to a South African song, “Wimoweh” (the title was Mr. Seeger’s mishearing of “Mbube,” the name of a South African hit by Solomon Linda), to an Israeli soldiers’ song, “Tzena, Tzena, Tzena,” to a cleaned-up version of Lead Belly’s “Goodnight, Irene.” Onstage, they also sang more pointed topical songs. In 1950 and 1951 the Weavers were national stars, with hit singles and engagements at major nightclubs. Their hits included “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine” and Mr. Guthrie’s “So Long (It’s Been Good to Know Yuh),” and they sold an estimated four million singles and albums. But “Red Channels,” an influential pamphlet listing performers with suspected Communist ties, appeared in June 1950 and listed Mr. Seeger, although by then he had quit the Communist Party. He would later criticize himself for having not left the party sooner, though he continued to describe himself as a “communist with a small ‘c.’ ” Despite the Weavers’ commercial success, by the summer of 1951 the “Red Channels” citation and leaks from F.B.I. files had led to the cancellation of television appearances. In 1951, the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee investigated the Weavers for sedition. And in February 1952, a former member of People’s Songs testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee that three of the four Weavers were members of the Communist Party. As engagements dried up the Weavers disbanded, though they reunited periodically in the mid-1950s. After the group recorded an advertisement for Lucky Strike cigarettes, Mr. Seeger left, citing his objection to promoting tobacco use. Shut out of national exposure, Mr. Seeger returned primarily to solo concerts, touring college coffeehouses, churches, schools and summer camps, building an audience for folk music among young people. He started to write a long-running column for the folk-song magazine Sing Out! And he recorded prolifically for the independent Folkways label, singing everything from children’s songs to Spanish Civil War anthems. In 1955 he was subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee, where he testified, “I feel that in my whole life I have never done anything of any conspiratorial nature.” He also stated: “I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this.” Mr. Seeger offered to sing the songs mentioned by the congressmen who questioned him. The committee declined. Mr. Seeger was indicted in 1957 on 10 counts of contempt of Congress. He was convicted in 1961 and sentenced to a year in prison, but the next year an appeals court dismissed the indictment as faulty. After the indictment, Mr. Seeger’s concerts were often picketed by the John Birch Society and other rightist groups. “All those protests did was sell tickets and get me free publicity,” he later said. “The more they protested, the bigger the audiences became.” By then, the folk revival was prospering. In 1959, Mr. Seeger was among the founders of the Newport Folk Festival. The Kingston Trio’s version of Mr. Seeger’s “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” reached the Top 40 in 1962, soon followed by Peter, Paul and Mary’s version of “If I Had a Hammer,” which rose to the Top 10. Mr. Seeger was signed to a major label, Columbia Records, in 1961, but he remained unwelcome on network television. “Hootenanny,” an early-1960s show on ABC that capitalized on the folk revival, refused to book Mr. Seeger, causing other performers (including Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Peter, Paul and Mary) to boycott it. “Hootenanny” eventually offered to present Mr. Seeger if he would sign a loyalty oath. He refused. He toured the world, performing and collecting folk songs, in 1963, and returned to serenade civil rights advocates, who had made a rallying song of his “We Shall Overcome.” Like many of Mr. Seeger’s songs, “We Shall Overcome” had convoluted traditional roots. It was based on old gospel songs, primarily “I’ll Overcome,” a hymn that striking tobacco workers had sung on a picket line in South Carolina. A slower version, “We Will Overcome,” was collected from one of the workers, Lucille Simmons, by Zilphia Horton, the musical director of the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tenn., which trained union organizers. Ms. Horton taught it to Mr. Seeger, and her version of “We Will Overcome” was published in the People’s Songs newsletter. Mr. Seeger changed “We will” to “We shall” and added verses (“We’ll walk hand in hand”). He taught it to the singers Frank Hamilton, who would join the Weavers in 1962, and Guy Carawan, who became musical director at Highlander in the ‘50s. Mr. Carawan taught the song to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee at its founding convention. The song was copyrighted by Mr. Seeger, Mr. Hamilton, Mr. Carawan and Ms. Horton. “At that time we didn’t know Lucille Simmons’s name,” Mr. Seeger wrote in his 1993 autobiography, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone.” All of the song’s royalties go to the “We Shall Overcome” Fund, administered by what is now the Highlander Research and Education Center, which provides grants to African-Americans organizing in the South. Along with many elders of the protest-song movement, Mr. Seeger felt betrayed when Bob Dylan appeared at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival with a loud electric blues band. Reports emerged that Mr. Seeger had tried to cut the power cable with an ax, but witnesses including the producer George Wein and the festival’s production manager, Joe Boyd (later a leading folk-rock record producer), said he did not go that far. (An ax was available, however. A group of prisoners had used it while singing a logging song.) As the United States grew divided over the Vietnam War, Mr. Seeger wrote “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy,” an antiwar song with the refrain “The big fool says to push on.” He performed the song during a taping of “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” in September 1967, his return to network television, but it was cut before the show was broadcast. After the Smothers Brothers publicized the censorship, Mr. Seeger returned to perform the song for broadcast in February 1968. During the late 1960s Mr. Seeger started an improbable project: a sailing ship that would crusade for cleaner water on the Hudson River. Between other benefit concerts he raised money to build the Clearwater, a 106-foot sloop that was launched in June 1969 with a crew of musicians. The ship became a symbol and a rallying point for antipollution efforts and education. In May 2009, after decades of litigation and environmental activism led by Mr. Seeger’s nonprofit environmental organization, Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, General Electric began dredging sediment containing PCBs it had dumped into the Hudson. Mr. Seeger and his wife also helped organize a yearly summer folk festival named after the Clearwater. In the ‘80s and ‘90s Mr. Seeger toured regularly with Arlo Guthrie, Woody’s son, and continued to lead singalongs and perform benefit concerts. Recognition and awards arrived. He was elected to the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1972, and in 1993 he was given a lifetime achievement Grammy Award (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/subjects/g/grammy_awards/index.html?inline=nyt-classifier) . In 1994, President Bill Clinton handed him the National Medal of Arts, America’s highest arts honor, given by the National Endowment for the Arts. In 1999, he traveled to Cuba to receive the Order of Félix Varela, Cuba’s highest cultural award, for his “humanistic and artistic work in defense of the environment and against racism.” In 1996, Mr. Seeger was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as an early influence. Arlo Guthrie, who paid tribute at the ceremony, mentioned that the Weavers’ hit “Goodnight, Irene” reached No. 1, only to add, “I can’t think of a single event in Pete’s life that is probably less important to him.” Mr. Seeger made no acceptance speech, but he did lead a singalong of “Goodnight, Irene,” flanked by Stevie Wonder, David Byrne and members of the Jefferson Airplane. Mr. Seeger won Grammy Awards for best traditional folk album in 1997, for the album “Pete,” and in 2009, for the album “At 89.” He also won a Grammy in the children’s music category in 2011 for “Tomorrow’s Children.” 195Comments Mr. Seeger kept performing into the 21st century, despite a flagging voice; audiences happily sang along more loudly. He celebrated his 90th birthday, on May 3, 2009, at a Madison Square Garden concert — a benefit for Hudson River Sloop Clearwater — with Mr. Springsteen, Dave Matthews, John Mellencamp, Joan Baez, Ani DiFranco, Roger McGuinn of the Byrds, Emmylou Harris and dozens of other musicians paying tribute. In August he was back in Newport for the 50th anniversary of the Newport Folk Festival. Mr. Seeger’s wife, Toshi, died in 2013, days before the couple’s 70th anniversary. Survivors include his son, Daniel; his daughters, Mika and Tinya; a half-sister, Peggy; and six grandchildren, including the musician Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, who performed with him at the Obama inaugural. His half-brother Mike Seeger, a folklorist and performer who founded the New Lost City Ramblers, died in 2009. Through the years, Mr. Seeger remained determinedly optimistic. “The key to the future of the world,” he said in 1994, “is finding the optimistic stories and letting them be known.” Gerry Mullany contributed reporting from Hong Kong, and Emma G. Fitzsimmons from New York. ============================================================ Copyright © 2014 Ed Pearl- The Ash Grove, All rights reserved. A new format for The Ash Grove list! Hope you like it. 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