Pete Seeger
American folk singer
Pete Seeger
Peter "Pete" Seeger is an American folk singer. A fixture on nationwide radio in the 1940s, he also had a string of hit records during the early 1950s as a member of The Weavers, most notably their recording of Lead Belly's "Goodnight, Irene", which topped the charts for 13 weeks in 1950. Members of The Weavers were blacklisted during the McCarthy Era.
Biography
Pete Seeger's personal information overview.
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Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan
Rolling Stone - about 5 years
This collection assembled in honor of Amnesty International's 50th birthday is stuffed with 80 artists from <a class="fplink fp-218417" href="/pete+seeger+1">Pete Seeger</a> (folk-music deity b 1919) to <a class="fplink fp-198799" href="/miley+cyrus+1">Miley Cyrus</a> (hot mess b 1992) Revelation and humor are in as short supply as hip-hop; instead you get a good catchall for a great cause with...
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Rolling Stone article
Pete Seeger enters 9th decade as an activist
Yahoo News - over 5 years
Tao Rodriguez-Seeger was halfway through Friday night's march down Broadway to support the Occupy Wall Street movement, a guitar strapped over his shoulder and his grandfather <a class="fplink fp-218417" href="/pete+seeger">Pete Seeger</a> at his side. Suddenly a New York City police officer stepped from the crowd and grabbed his elbow.
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Yahoo News article
Occupy Wall Street protesters serenaded by Pete Seeger - Los Angeles Times
Google News - over 5 years
ABC News Occupy Wall Street protesters serenaded by <a class="fplink fp-218417" href="/pete+seeger">Pete Seeger</a> Los Angeles Times Folk music legend <a class="fplink fp-218417" href="/pete+seeger">Pete Seeger</a> led Occupy Wall Street protesters in song late Friday in Manhattan. Seeger, 92, had joined marchers on the Upper West Side earlier in the evening. When they reached Columbus Circle, he led them in a rendition of “This ... <a class="fplink fp-218417" href="/pete+seeger">Pete Seeger</a>, Arlo Guthrie march with Occupy Wallstreet protestUSA Today Latest developments in the global Occupy protestsBoston.com Latest developments in the Occupy protests occurring in places around the worldWashington Post NY1 -NPR -San Francisco Chronicle all 634 news articles »
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Pete Seeger, pals attend NYC protest
USA Today - over 5 years
Folk music legend <a class="fplink fp-218417" href="/pete+seeger">Pete Seeger</a> joined in the Occupy Wall Street protest Friday night, replacing his banjo with two canes
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USA Today article
Wooden Wand releasing 6-LP set of archival material around Thanksgiving in ... - Tiny Mix Tapes
Google News - over 5 years
... which, like Mermaid Avenue, sets Guthrie&#39;s previously unpublished lyrics to new music (this time from Jim James and Jay Farrar), and Note of Hope, an all-star tribute album featuring Lou Reed, Pete Seeger, Tom Morello, and Jackson Browne
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Google News article
Labor's Marching Tunes - Voice of America (blog)
Google News - over 5 years
As I told you in a recent posting about folk music&#39;s troubadours, Pete Seeger, shown here as a young labor-song performer, is still at it at age 92. (Library of Congress) Those were the days when Woody Guthrie, the “Dust Bowl Troubadour,” sang of
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Google News article
The Nightwatchman: World Wide Rebel Songs - Paste Magazine
Google News - over 5 years
What emerges is Pete Seeger on steroids. The triumph and the stridency of tracks like “Union Town,” which closes WWRS and anchors his pro-labor EP of the same title, remind listeners that people have the power but must access their dignity and
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Google News article
Goodnight Irene: Wishing for Better Air Travel Dreams - Portfolio.com (blog)
Google News - over 5 years
As the great Pete Seeger, who lives just a few miles from where I&#39;ve had to set up shop in a hotel in Fishkill, New York, would sing: Goodnight, Irene. No one will miss this particular storm. The air-travel system is getting up off its knees and very
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Google News article
Clearwater Festival in Asbury Park Saturday - Asbury Park Press (blog)
Google News - over 5 years
The start of New Jersey Friends of Clearwater, and their annual festival, can be linked back to Pete Seeger, who 40 years ago built a replica of a 19th century sloop and sailed it up and down the Hudson River, stopping to talk to people about water
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Country rebel Steve Earle: Singer, novelist, actor, Renaissance man and 'Harry ... - The Grand Rapids Press - MLive.com
Google News - over 5 years
The prolific Earle also is in the midst of finishing work on another play, this one about folk legend Pete Seeger&#39;s testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s. It&#39;s just another way Earle has paid tribute to influential
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Google News article
Timeline
Learn about memorable moments in the evolution of Pete Seeger
    LATE_ADULTHOOD
  • 2014
    Age 94
    Seeger died at New York-Presbyterian Hospital on January 27, 2014, at the age of 94.
    More Details Hide Details Response and reaction to Seeger's death quickly poured in. President Barack Obama noted that Seeger had been called "America's tuning fork" and that he believed in "the power of song" to bring social change, "Over the years, Pete used his voice and his hammer to strike blows for workers' rights and civil rights; world peace and environmental conservation, and he always invited us to sing along. For reminding us where we come from and showing us where we need to go, we will always be grateful to Pete Seeger." Folksinger and fellow activist Billy Bragg wrote that: "Pete believed that music could make a difference. Not change the world, he never claimed that – he once said that if music could change the world he'd only be making music – but he believed that while music didn't have agency, it did have the power to make a difference." Bruce Springsteen said of Seeger's death, "I lost a great friend and a great hero last night, Pete Seeger", before performing "We Shall Overcome" while on tour in South Africa.
  • 2013
    Age 93
    On September 21, 2013, Pete Seeger performed at Farm Aid at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in Saratoga Springs, New York.
    More Details Hide Details Joined by Wille Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp, and Dave Matthews, he sang "This Land Is Your Land" and included a verse he said he had written specifically for the Farm Aid concert.
    On August 9, 2013, one month widowed, Seeger was in New York City for the 400-year commemoration of the Two Row Wampum Treaty between the Iroquois and the Dutch.
    More Details Hide Details On an interview he gave that day to Democracy Now! Seeger sang "I Come and Stand at Every Door" as it was also the 68th anniversary of bombing of Nagasaki.
    Toshi died in Beacon on July 9, 2013 and Pete died in New York City on January 27, 2014.
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    On April 9, 2013, Hachette Audio Books issued an audiobook entitled Pete Seeger: The Storm King; Stories, Narratives, Poems.
    More Details Hide Details This two-CD spoken-word work was conceived of and produced by noted percussionist Jeff Haynes and presents Pete Seeger telling the stories of his life against a background of music performed by more than 40 musicians of varied genres. The launch of the audiobook was held at the Dia:Beacon on April 11, 2013 to an enthusiastic audience of around two hundred people, and featured many of the musicians from the project (among them Samite, Dar Williams, Dave Eggar and Richie Stearns of the Horse Flies and Natalie Merchant) performing live under the direction of producer and percussionist Haynes. April 15, 2013, Sirius XM Book Radio presented the Dia:Beacon concert as a special episode of "Cover to Cover Live with Maggie Linton and Kim Alexander" entitled "Pete Seeger:The Storm King and Friends."
  • 2012
    Age 92
    On December 14, 2012, Seeger performed, along with Harry Belafonte, Jackson Browne, Common and others, at a concert to bring awareness to the 37-year-long ordeal of Native American Activist Leonard Peltier.
    More Details Hide Details The concert was held at the Beacon Theater in New York City.
  • 2011
    Age 91
    On October 21, 2011, at age 92, Pete Seeger was part of a solidarity march with Occupy Wall Street to Columbus Circle in New York City.
    More Details Hide Details The march began with Seeger and fellow musicians exiting Symphony Space (95th and Broadway), where they had performed as part of a benefit for Seeger's Clearwater organization. Thousands of people crowded Pete Seeger by the time they reached Columbus Circle where he performed with his grandson, Tao Rodríguez-Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, David Amram, and other celebrated musicians. The event, promoted under the name OccupyTheCircle, was live streamed, and dubbed by some as "The Pete Seeger March".
  • 2010
    Age 90
    In 2010, still active at the age of 91, Seeger co-wrote and performed the song God's Counting on Me, God's Counting on You with Lorre Wyatt, commenting on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
    More Details Hide Details A performance of the song by Seeger, Wyatt, and friends was recorded and filmed on the Sloop Clearwater in August and released as a single and video produced by Richard Barone and Matthew Billy on election day November 6, 2012.
  • 2009
    Age 89
    On September 19, 2009, Seeger made his first appearance at the 52nd Monterey Jazz Festival, which was particularly notable because the festival does not normally feature folk artists.
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    On May 3, 2009, at the Clearwater Concert, dozens of musicians gathered in New York at Madison Square Garden to celebrate Seeger's 90th birthday (which was later televised on PBS during the summer), ranging from Dave Matthews, John Mellencamp, Billy Bragg, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Morello, Eric Weissberg, Ani DiFranco and Roger McGuinn to Joan Baez, Richie Havens, Joanne Shenandoah, R.
    More Details Hide Details Carlos Nakai, Bill Miller, Joseph Fire Crow, Margo Thunderbird, Tom Paxton, Ramblin' Jack Elliott and Arlo Guthrie. Cuban singer-songwriter Silvio Rodríguez was also invited to appear but his visa was not approved in time by the United States government. Consistent with Seeger's long-time advocacy for environmental concerns, the proceeds from the event benefited the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, a non-profit organization founded by Seeger in 1966, to defend and restore the Hudson River. Seeger's 90th Birthday was also celebrated at The College of Staten Island on May 4.
    Almost 50 years later, in February 2009, the San Diego School District officially extended an apology to Seeger for the actions of their predecessors.
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    On January 18, 2009, Seeger and his grandson Tao Rodríguez-Seeger joined Bruce Springsteen, and the crowd in singing the Woody Guthrie song "This Land Is Your Land" in the finale of Barack Obama's Inaugural concert in Washington, D.C. The performance was noteworthy for the inclusion of two verses not often included in the song, one about a "private property" sign the narrator cheerfully ignores, and the other making a passing reference to a Depression-era relief office.
    More Details Hide Details Over the years he lent his fame to support numerous environmental organizations, including South Jersey's Bayshore Center, the home of New Jersey's tall ship, the oyster schooner A.J. Meerwald. Seeger's benefit concerts helped raise funds for groups so they could continue to educate and spread environmental awareness.
  • 2008
    Age 88
    In September 2008, Appleseed Recordings released At 89, Seeger's first studio album in 12 years.
    More Details Hide Details On September 29, 2008, the 89-year-old singer-activist, once banned from commercial TV, made a rare national TV appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman, singing "Take It From Dr. King".
  • 2007
    Age 87
    On March 16, 2007, Pete Seeger, his sister Peggy, his brothers Mike and John, his wife Toshi, and other family members spoke and performed at a symposium and concert sponsored by the American Folklife Center in honor of the Seeger family, held at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., where Pete Seeger had been employed by the Archive of American Folk Song 67 years earlier.
    More Details Hide Details
    In 2007, in response to criticism from a historian Ron Radosh, a former Trotskyite who now writes for the conservative National Review—Seeger wrote a song condemning Stalin, "Big Joe Blues": "I'm singing about old Joe, cruel Joe. / He ruled with an iron hand. /He put an end to the dreams / Of so many in every land. / He had a chance to make / A brand new start for the human race. / Instead he set it back / Right in the same nasty place. / I got the Big Joe Blues. / Keep your mouth shut or you will die fast. / I got the Big Joe Blues. / Do this job, no questions asked. / I got the Big Joe Blues."
    More Details Hide Details The song was accompanied by a letter to Radosh, in which Seeger stated, "I think you're right, I should have asked to see the gulags when I was in U.S.S.R 1965."
  • 1995
    Age 75
    In a 1995 interview, however, he insisted that "I still call myself a communist, because communism is no more what Russia made of it than Christianity is what the churches make of it." In recent years, as the aging Seeger began to garner awards and recognition for his lifelong activism, he also found himself criticized once again for his opinions and associations of the 1930s and 1940s. In 2006, David Boaz—Voice of America and NPR commentator and president of the libertarian Cato Institute—wrote an opinion piece in The Guardian, entitled "Stalin's Songbird" in which he excoriated The New Yorker and The New York Times for lauding Seeger.
    More Details Hide Details He characterized Seeger as "someone with a longtime habit of following the party line" who had only "eventually" parted ways with the CPUSA. In support of this view, he quoted lines from the Almanac Singers' May 1941 Songs for John Doe, contrasting them darkly with lines supporting the war from Dear Mr. President, issued in 1942, after the United States and the Soviet Union had entered the war.
  • 1982
    Age 62
    In 1982, Seeger performed at a benefit concert for Poland's Solidarity resistance movement.
    More Details Hide Details His biographer David Dunaway considers this the first public manifestation of Seeger's decades-long personal dislike of communism in its Soviet form. In the late 1980s Seeger also expressed disapproval of violent revolutions, remarking to an interviewer that he was really in favor of incremental change and that "the most lasting revolutions are those that take place over a period of time." In his autobiography Where Have All the Flowers Gone (1993, 1997, reissued in 2009), Seeger wrote, "Should I apologize for all this? I think so." He went on to put his thinking in context: How could Hitler have been stopped? Litvinov, the Soviet delegate to the League of Nations in '36, proposed a worldwide quarantine but got no takers. For more on those times check out pacifist Dave Dellinger's book, From Yale to Jail At any rate, today I'll apologize for a number of things, such as thinking that Stalin was merely a "hard driver" and not a "supremely cruel misleader." I guess anyone who calls himself a Christian should be prepared to apologize for the Inquisition, the burning of heretics by Protestants, the slaughter of Jews and Muslims by Crusaders. White people in the U.S.A. ought to apologize for stealing land from Native Americans and enslaving blacks. Europeans could apologize for worldwide conquests, Mongolians for Genghis Khan. And supporters of Roosevelt could apologize for his support of Somoza, of Southern White Democrats, of Franco Spain, for putting Japanese Americans in concentration camps.
  • FIFTIES
  • 1978
    Age 58
    In 1978, Seeger joined American folk, blues, and jazz singer Barbara Dane at a rally in New York for striking coal miners.
    More Details Hide Details The most discussed pollution of the Hudson River is General Electric's contamination of the river with Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) between 1947-77. This pollution caused a range of harmful effects to wildlife and people who eat fish from the river or drink the water. In response to this contamination, activists protested in various ways. Musician Pete Seeger founded the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater and the Clearwater Festival to draw attention to the problem. The activism led to the site being designated as one of the superfund sites.
  • 1977
    Age 57
    Being a supporter of progressive labor unions, Seeger had supported Ed Sadlowski in his bid for the presidency of the United Steelworkers of America. In 1977 Seeger appeared at a fundraiser in Homestead, Pennsylvania.
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  • 1972
    Age 52
    In the documentary film The Power of Song, Seeger mentions that he and his family visited North Vietnam in 1972.
    More Details Hide Details
  • FORTIES
  • 1969
    Age 49
    At the November 15, 1969, Vietnam Moratorium March on Washington, DC, Seeger led 500,000 protesters in singing John Lennon's song "Give Peace a Chance" as they rallied across from the White House.
    More Details Hide Details Seeger's voice carried over the crowd, interspersing phrases like, "Are you listening, Nixon?" between the choruses of protesters singing, "All we are saying... is give peace a chance". Inspired by Woody Guthrie, whose guitar was labeled "This machine kills fascists",photo Seeger's banjo was emblazoned with the motto "This Machine Surrounds Hate and Forces It to Surrender."
  • 1967
    Age 47
    Although the performance was cut from the September 1967 show, after wide publicity it was broadcast when Seeger appeared again on the Smothers' Brothers show in the following January.
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    Seeger attracted wider attention starting in 1967 with his song "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy", about a captain—referred to in the lyrics as "the big fool"—who drowned while leading a platoon on maneuvers in Louisiana during World War II.
    More Details Hide Details With its lyrics about a platoon being led into danger by an ignorant captain, the song's anti-war message was obvious- the line "the big fool said to push on" is repeated several times. In the face of arguments with the management of CBS about whether the song's political weight was in keeping with the usually light-hearted entertainment of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, the final lines were "Every time I read the paper/those old feelings come on/We are waist deep in the Big Muddy and the big fool says to push on." The lyrics could be interpreted as an allegory of Johnson as the "big fool" and the Vietnam War as the foreseeable danger.
  • 1966
    Age 46
    During 1966 Seeger and Malvina Reynolds took part in environmental activism.
    More Details Hide Details The album God Bless the Grass was released on January of that year and became the first album in history wholly dedicated to songs about environmental issues. Their politics were informed by the same ideologies of nationalism, populism, and criticism of big business.
    A longstanding opponent of the arms race and of the Vietnam War, Seeger satirically attacked then-President Lyndon Johnson with his 1966 recording, on the album Dangerous Songs!?, of Len Chandler's children's song, "Beans in My Ears".
    More Details Hide Details Beyond Chandler's lyrics, Seeger said that "Mrs. Jay's little son Alby" had "beans in his ears," which, as the lyrics imply, ensures that a person does not hear what is said to them. To those opposed to continuing the Vietnam War, the phrase implied that "Alby Jay", a loose pronunciation of Johnson's nickname "LBJ," did not listen to anti-war protests as he too had "beans in his ears".
  • 1965
    Age 45
    There was a widely repeated story that Seeger was so upset over the extremely loud amplified sound that Dylan, backed by members of the Butterfield Blues Band, brought into the 1965 Newport Folk Festival that he threatened to disconnect the equipment.
    More Details Hide Details There are multiple versions of what went on, some fanciful. What is certain is that tensions had been running high between Dylan's manager, Albert Grossman, and Festival Board members (who besides Seeger also included Theodore Bikel, Bruce Jackson, Alan Lomax, festival MC Peter Yarrow, and George Wein) over the scheduling of performers and other matters. Two days earlier there had been a scuffle and brief exchange of blows between Grossman and Alan Lomax; and the Board, in an emergency session, had voted to ban Grossman from the grounds, but had backed off when George Wein pointed out that Grossman also managed highly popular draws Odetta and Peter, Paul, and Mary. Seeger has been portrayed as a folk "purist" who was one of the main opponents to Dylan's "going electric". but when asked in 2001 about how he recalled his "objections" to the electric style, he said:
    Thirty-nine hour-long programs were recorded at WNJU's Newark studios in 1965 and 1966, produced by Seeger and his wife Toshi, with Sholom Rubinstein.
    More Details Hide Details The Smothers Brothers ended Seeger's national blacklisting by broadcasting him singing "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy" on their CBS variety show on February 25, 1968, after his similar performance in September 1967 was censored by CBS. In November 1976, Seeger wrote and recorded the anti-death penalty song "Delbert Tibbs", about the eponymous death-row inmate, who was later exonerated. Seeger wrote the music and selected the words from poems written by Tibbs. Seeger also supported the Jewish Camping Movement. He came to Surprise Lake Camp in Cold Spring, New York, over the summer many times. He sang and inspired countless campers. Pete Seeger was one of the earliest backers of Bob Dylan and was responsible for urging A&R man John Hammond to produce Dylan's first LP on Columbia, and for inviting him to perform at the Newport Folk Festival, of which Seeger was a board member.
  • 1963
    Age 43
    Seeger toured Australia in 1963.
    More Details Hide Details His single "Little Boxes", written by Malvina Reynolds, was number one in the nation's Top 40s. That tour sparked a folk boom throughout the country at a time when popular music tastes, post-Kennedy assassination, competed between folk, the surfing craze, and the British rock boom which gave the world the Beatles and The Rolling Stones, among others. Folk clubs sprung up all over the nation, folk performers were accepted in established venues, and Australian performers singing Australian folk songs – many of their own composing – emerged in concerts and festivals, on television, and on recordings, and overseas performers were encouraged to tour Australia. The long television blacklist of Seeger began to end in the mid-1960s, when he hosted a regionally broadcast, educational, folk-music television show, Rainbow Quest. Among his guests were Johnny Cash, June Carter, Reverend Gary Davis, Mississippi John Hurt, Doc Watson, the Stanley Brothers, Elizabeth Cotten, Patrick Sky, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Tom Paxton, Judy Collins, Donovan, Richard Fariña and Mimi Fariña, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Mamou Cajun Band, Bernice Johnson Reagon, The Beers Family, Roscoe Holcomb, Malvina Reynolds, and Shawn Phillips.
    Seeger also was closely associated with the Civil Rights Movement and in 1963 helped organize a landmark Carnegie Hall concert, featuring the youthful Freedom Singers, as a benefit for the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee.
    More Details Hide Details This event and Martin Luther King's March on Washington in August of that year brought the Civil Rights anthem "We Shall Overcome" to wide audiences where he sang it on the 50-mile walk from Selma to Montgomery, Ala. along with 1,000 other marchers. By this time, Seeger was a senior figure in the 1960s folk revival centered in Greenwich Village, as a longtime columnist in Sing Out!, the successor to the People's Songs Bulletin, and as a founder of the topical Broadside magazine. To describe the new crop of politically committed folk singers, he coined the phrase "Woody's children", alluding to his associate and traveling companion, Woody Guthrie, who by this time had become a legendary figure. This urban folk-revival movement, a continuation of the activist tradition of the 1930s and 1940s and of People's Songs, used adaptations of traditional tunes and lyrics to effect social change, a practice that goes back to the Industrial Workers of the World or Wobblies' Little Red Song Book, compiled by Swedish-born union organizer Joe Hill (1879–1915). (The Little Red Song Book had been a favorite of Woody Guthrie's, who was known to carry it around.)
  • 1960
    Age 40
    In 1960, the San Diego school board told him that he could not play a scheduled concert at a high school unless he signed an oath pledging that the concert would not be used to promote a communist agenda or an overthrow of the government.
    More Details Hide Details Seeger refused, and the American Civil Liberties Union obtained an injunction against the school district, allowing the concert to go on as scheduled.
  • THIRTIES
  • 1957
    Age 37
    Seeger's refusal to answer questions that violated his fundamental Constitutional rights led to a March 26, 1957, indictment for contempt of Congress; for some years, he had to keep the federal government apprised of where he was going any time he left the Southern District of New York.
    More Details Hide Details He was convicted in a jury trial of contempt of Congress in March 1961, and sentenced to ten 1-year terms in jail (to be served simultaneously), but in May 1962 an appeals court ruled the indictment to be flawed and overturned his conviction.
  • 1950
    Age 30
    Alone among the many witnesses after the 1950 conviction and imprisonment of the Hollywood Ten for contempt of Congress, Seeger refused to plead the Fifth Amendment (which would have asserted that his testimony might be self incriminating) and instead, as the Hollywood Ten had done, refused to name personal and political associations on the grounds that this would violate his First Amendment rights: "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.
    More Details Hide Details I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this."
  • TWENTIES
  • 1949
    Age 29
    He left the CPUSA in 1949 but remained friends with some who did not leave it, though he argued with them about it.
    More Details Hide Details On August 18, 1955, Seeger was subpoenaed to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC).
  • 1948
    Age 28
    In 1948, Seeger wrote the first version of his now-classic How to Play the Five-String Banjo, a book that many banjo players credit with starting them off on the instrument.
    More Details Hide Details He went on to invent the Long Neck or Seeger banjo. This instrument is three frets longer than a typical banjo, is slightly longer than a bass guitar at 25 frets, and is tuned a minor third lower than the normal 5-string banjo. Hitherto strictly limited to the Appalachian region, the five-string banjo became known nationwide as the American folk instrument par excellence, largely thanks to Seeger's championing of and improvements to it. According to an unnamed musician quoted in David King Dunaway's biography, "by nesting a resonant chord between two precise notes, a melody note and a chiming note on the fifth string", Pete Seeger "gentrified" the more percussive traditional Appalachian "frailing" style, "with its vigorous hammering of the forearm and its percussive rapping of the fingernail on the banjo head." Although what Dunaway's informant describes is the age-old droned frailing style, the implication is that Seeger made this more acceptable to mass audiences by omitting some of its percussive complexities, while presumably still preserving the characteristic driving rhythmic quality associated with the style.
  • 1944
    Age 24
    Their first child, Peter Ōta Seeger, was born in 1944 and died at six months, while Pete was deployed overseas.
    More Details Hide Details Pete never saw him. They went on to have three more children: Daniel (an accomplished photographer and filmmaker), Mika (a potter and muralist), and Tinya (a potter), as well as grandchildren Tao Rodríguez-Seeger (a musician), Cassie (an artist), Kitama Cahill-Jackson (a filmmaker), Moraya (a graduate student married to the NFL player Chris DeGeare), Penny, Isabelle, and great-grandchildren Dio, and Gabel. Tao is a folk musician in his own right, who sings and plays guitar, banjo, and harmonica with the Mammals. Kitama Jackson is a documentary filmmaker who was associate producer of the PBS documentary Pete Seeger: The Power of Song. When asked about his religious or spiritual views, Seeger replied: "I feel most spiritual when I’m out in the woods. I feel part of nature. Or looking up at the stars. used to say I was an atheist. Now I say, it's all according to your definition of God. According to my definition of God, I'm not an atheist. Because I think God is everything. Whenever I open my eyes I'm looking at God. Whenever I'm listening to something I'm listening to God." He was a member of a Unitarian Universalist Church in New York.
  • 1943
    Age 23
    In 1943, Pete married Toshi-Aline Ōta, whom he credited with being the support that helped make the rest of his life possible. The couple remained married until Toshi's death in July 2013.
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  • 1941
    Age 21
    As a self-described "split tenor" (between an alto and a tenor), Pete Seeger was a founding member of two highly influential folk groups: The Almanac Singers and the Weavers. The Almanac Singers, which Seeger co-founded in 1941 with Millard Lampell and Arkansas singer and activist Lee Hays, was a topical group, designed to function as a singing newspaper promoting the industrial unionization movement, racial and religious inclusion, and other progressive causes.
    More Details Hide Details Its personnel included, at various times: Woody Guthrie, Bess Lomax Hawes, Sis Cunningham, Josh White, and Sam Gary. As a controversial Almanac singer, the 21-year-old Seeger performed under the stage name "Pete Bowers" to avoid compromising his father's government career. In 1950, the Almanacs were reconstituted as the Weavers, named after the title of an 1892 play by Gerhart Hauptmann about a workers' strike (which contained the lines, "We'll stand it no more, come what may!"). They did benefits for strikers at which they sang songs such as 'Talking Union', about the struggles for unionisation of industrial workers such as miners and auto mobile workers. Besides Pete Seeger (performing under his own name), members of the Weavers included charter Almanac member Lee Hays, Ronnie Gilbert and Fred Hellerman; later Frank Hamilton, Erik Darling and Bernie Krause serially took Seeger's place. In the atmosphere of the 1950s red scare, the Weavers' repertoire had to be less overtly topical than that of the Almanacs had been, and its progressive message was couched in indirect language—arguably rendering it even more powerful. The Weavers on occasion performed in tuxedos (unlike the Almanacs, who had dressed informally) and their managers refused to let them perform at political venues. The Weavers' string of major hits began with "On Top of Old Smoky" and an arrangement of Lead Belly's signature waltz, "Goodnight, Irene", which topped the charts for 13 weeks in 1950 and was covered by many other pop singers.
    The march, which many regard as the first manifestation of the Civil Rights Movement, was canceled after President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802 (The Fair Employment Act) of June 25, 1941, barring discrimination in hiring by companies holding federal contracts for defense work.
    More Details Hide Details This Presidential act defused black anger considerably, although the United States Army still refused to desegregate, declining to participate in what it considered social experimentation. Roosevelt's order came three days after Hitler broke the non-aggression pact and invaded the Soviet Union, at which time the Communist Party quickly directed its members to get behind the draft and forbade participation in strikes for the duration of the war (angering some leftists). Copies of Songs for John Doe were removed from sale, and the remaining inventory destroyed, though a few copies may exist in the hands of private collectors. The Almanac Singers' Talking Union album, on the other hand, was reissued as an LP by Folkways (FH 5285A) in 1955 and is still available. The following year the Almanacs issued Dear Mr. President, an album in support of Roosevelt and the war effort. The title song, "Dear Mr. President", was a solo by Pete Seeger, and its lines expressed his lifelong credo:
    In a review in the June 1941 Atlantic Monthly, entitled "The Poison in Our System," he pronounced Songs for John Doe " strictly subversive and illegal," " whether Communist or Nazi financed," and "a matter for the attorney general," observing further that "mere" legal "suppression" would not be sufficient to counteract this type of populist poison, the poison being folk music, and the ease with which it could be spread.
    More Details Hide Details At that point, the U.S. had not yet entered the war but was energetically re-arming. African Americans were barred from working in defense plants, a situation that greatly angered both African Americans and white progressives. Civil rights leader A. J. Muste and Black union leaders A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin began planning a huge march on Washington to protest racial discrimination in war industries and to urge desegregation of the armed forces.
    In the spring of 1941, the twenty-one-year-old Seeger performed as a member of the Almanac Singers along with Millard Lampell, Cisco Houston, Woody Guthrie, Butch and Bess Lomax Hawes, and Lee Hays.
    More Details Hide Details Seeger and the Almanacs cut several albums of 78s on Keynote and other labels, Songs for John Doe (recorded in late February or March and released in May 1941), the Talking Union, and an album each of sea chanteys and pioneer songs. Written by Millard Lampell, Songs for John Doe was performed by Lampell, Seeger, and Hays, joined by Josh White and Sam Gary. It contained lines such as, "It wouldn't be much thrill to die for Du Pont in Brazil," that were sharply critical of Roosevelt's unprecedented peacetime draft (enacted in September 1940). This anti-war/anti-draft tone reflected the Communist Party line after the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which maintained the war was "phony" and a mere pretext for big American corporations to get Hitler to attack Soviet Russia. Seeger has said he believed this line of argument at the time—as did many fellow members of the Young Communist League (YCL). Though nominally members of the Popular Front, which was allied with Roosevelt and more moderate liberals, the YCL's members still smarted from Roosevelt and Churchill's arms embargo to Loyalist Spain (which Roosevelt later called a mistake), and the alliance frayed in the confusing welter of events.
  • TEENAGE
  • 1936
    Age 16
    In 1936, at the age of 17, Pete Seeger joined the Young Communist League (YCL), then at the height of its popularity and influence.
    More Details Hide Details In 1942 he became a member of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) itself, but left in 1949.
    During the summer of 1936, while traveling with his father and stepmother, Pete heard the five-string banjo for the first time at the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival in western North Carolina near Asheville, organized by local folklorist, lecturer, and traditional music performer Bascom Lamar Lunsford, whom Charles Seeger had hired for Farm Resettlement music projects.
    More Details Hide Details The festival took place in a covered baseball field. There the Seegers: watched square-dance teams from Bear Wallow, Happy Hollow, Cane Creek, Spooks Branch, Cheoah Valley, Bull Creek, and Soco Gap; heard the five-string banjo player Samantha Bumgarner; and family string bands, including a group of Indians from the Cherokee reservation who played string instruments and sang ballads. They wandered among the crowds who camped out at the edge of the field, hearing music being made there as well. As Lunsford's daughter would later recall, those country people "held the riches that Dad had discovered. They could sing, fiddle, pick the banjos, and guitars with traditional grace and style found nowhere else but deep in the mountains. I can still hear those haunting melodies drift over the ball park." For the Seegers, experiencing the beauty of this music firsthand was a "conversion experience". Pete was deeply affected and, after learning basic strokes from Lunsford, spent much of the next four years trying to master the five-string banjo. The teenage Seeger also sometimes accompanied his parents to regular Saturday evening gatherings at the Greenwich Village loft of painter and art teacher Thomas Hart Benton and his wife Rita. Benton, a lover of Americana, played "Cindy" and "Old Joe Clark" with his students Charlie and Jackson Pollock; friends from the "hillbilly" recording industry; as well as avant-garde composers Carl Ruggles and Henry Cowell.
    At thirteen, Seeger enrolled in the Avon Old Farms School in Avon, Connecticut from which he graduated in 1936.
    More Details Hide Details He was selected to attend Camp Rising Sun, the George E. Jonas Foundation's international summer leadership program.
  • 1935
    Age 15
    In 1935, Pete attended Camp Rising Sun, an international leadership camp held every summer in upstate New York that influenced his life's work.
    More Details Hide Details He visited it most recently in 2012.
  • 1932
    Age 12
    Charles and Constance divorced when Pete was seven, and in 1932 Charles married his composition student and assistant, Ruth Crawford, now considered by many to be one of the most important modernist composers of the 20th century.
    More Details Hide Details Deeply interested in folk music, Ruth had contributed musical arrangements to Carl Sandburg's extremely influential folk song anthology the American Songbag (1927) and later created significant original settings for eight of Sandburg's poems. Pete's eldest brother, Charles Seeger III, was a radio astronomer, and his next older brother, John Seeger, taught in the 1950s at the Dalton School in Manhattan and was the principal from 1960 to 1976 at Fieldston Lower School in the Bronx. Pete's uncle, Alan Seeger, a noted poet ("I Have a Rendezvous with Death"), had been one of the first American soldiers to be killed in World War I. All four of Pete's half siblings from his father's second marriage – Margaret (Peggy), Mike, Barbara, and Penelope (Penny) – became folk singers. Peggy Seeger, a well-known performer in her own right, married British folk singer and activist Ewan MacColl. Mike Seeger was a founder of the New Lost City Ramblers, one of whose members, John Cohen, married Pete's half-sister Penny – also a talented singer who died young. Barbara Seeger joined her siblings in recording folk songs for children.
  • CHILDHOOD
  • 1919
    Born
    Seeger was born on May 3, 1919 at the French Hospital, Midtown Manhattan.
    More Details Hide Details His Yankee-Protestant family, which Seeger called "enormously Christian, in the Puritan, Calvinist New England tradition", traced its genealogy back over 200 years. A paternal ancestor, Karl Ludwig Seeger, a physician from Württemberg, Germany, had emigrated to America during the American Revolution and married into the old New England family of Parsons in the 1780s. Pete's father, the Harvard-trained composer and musicologist Charles Louis Seeger, Jr., was born in Mexico City, Mexico, to American parents. Charles established the first musicology curriculum in the U.S. at the University of California in 1913, helped found the American Musicological Society, and was a key founder of the academic discipline of ethnomusicology. Pete's mother, Constance de Clyver (née Edson), raised in Tunisia and trained at the Paris Conservatory of Music, was a concert violinist and later a teacher at the Juilliard School.
Original Authors of this text are noted here.
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