Archive for February, 2009

Pete Seeger Wins Grammy for Appleseed CD “At 89”

Folk singing icon Pete Seeger has won the Grammy for Best Traditional Folk Album, for “At 89.”

Seeger did not accept his award in person, though Jim Musselman, founder of Appleseed Records, read a statement from the famous Hudson Valley performer. In that statement, Seeger thanked David Bernz, who co-produced “At 89” with Seeger. The statement from Seeger also said, “Keep singing songs of hope and social justice. Music can change the world and non-violence can change the world.”

“I suspect,” Seeger said after being contacted at home by phone, moments after winning, “the reward for longevity.”

Asked further about winning, Seeger said, “I feel like apologizing to three very good friends — my younger sister Peggy; Tom Paxton, I knew him as a college student when he first started making up songs, and Rosalie Sorrels.” Pete Seeger beat out Peggy Seeger, Paxton, Sorrels and Kathy Mattea for the Grammy.

Visit for a complete list of award winners.


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School board to say sorry to folk icon after 49 years

School board to say sorry to folk icon after 49 years

Union-Tribune Staff Writer

2:00 a.m. February 10, 2009

Pete Seeger (center), with grandson Tao Seeger and Bruce Springsteen, performed during the pre-inauguration concert for Barack Obama at the Lincoln Memorial. (Associated Press) –

It took a half century, but the San Diego Unified school board wants to apologize to Pete Seeger.

In 1960, Seeger was nearly barred from playing a concert at Hoover High School. At the time, the now-legendary folk singer was under indictment for refusing to answer questions from a McCarthy-era congressional committee about his left-leaning politics and membership in the Communist Party.

The school board insisted that Seeger sign a loyalty oath before he could perform.

The effort failed, thanks to quick work by lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union in San Diego and a ruling by a judge against the school board at a rare Saturday session in his downtown court chambers.

Tonight, board member Katherine Nakamura will introduce a resolution declaring that the board “deeply regrets its predecessors’ actions” and offering a hand of formal friendship to Seeger.

The resolution offers an apology to a man who is “one of our dearest national treasures.”

For his part, Seeger, 89, said in a statement that he appreciated the gesture.

“It is a measure of justice that our right to freedom of expression has been vindicated,” he said.

Seeger urged support for a bill in the state Legislature regarding an oath that state employees are required to take. The change would allow those who have religious or moral objections to recite an alternate oath.

“Let’s read the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,” he wrote.

ACLU of San Diego Executive Director Kevin Keenan had told Nakamura about the 1960 incident about two years ago, but Nakamura said it was Seeger’s appearance at a pre-inauguration concert for Barack Obama that provided the final spark for the resolution.

Seeger, joined by his grandson and Bruce Springsteen, led the Lincoln Memorial throng in “This Land Is Your Land,” a song written by his friend Woody Guthrie.

Seeger’s troubles in San Diego occurred while he was blacklisted and shunned by major entertainment venues.

In 1955, Seeger had declined to answer questions in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee, a McCarthy-era committee that probed real or alleged members of the Communist Party, citing his First Amendment rights.

He spent years performing mostly at schools and small venues, and one of those was Hoover High School. His agent signed a rental agreement for the concert, but the local American Legion heard of it and pressured the school board to act.

The board passed a resolution that said Seeger had to first sign a pledge stating the concert would not be used to promote the overthrow of the government, and was not part of a “Communist-action organization or Communist-front organization.”

The action came two days before the Saturday night concert, recalled Louis Katz, one of two ACLU lawyers who represented Seeger that May. He and his partner Irwin Gostin spent all day Friday drafting a motion asking for an injunction against the district.

Superior Court Judge Clarence Harden heard the case in his chambers on Saturday morning, about 10 hours before the show was to go on. Katz said the lawyers argued that Seeger had signed a valid contract with the district, and the oath was an illegal new condition.

“It was interference with his civil liberties, and with a contract that had been made and signed,” Katz said. “It was all political.”

Harden agreed with the ACLU and issued the order barring the school district from forcing Seeger to sign the pledge. Seeger invited the judge to the show, but Katz wasn’t sure if he showed.

That night about 1,400 people did go to the auditorium to hear Seeger perform.

Nakamura has her own memory of Seeger. As a student in 1975 she attended a folk music festival in Los Angeles where Seeger played to a decidedly smaller crowd. She said only about a half dozen or so people showed up for what she described as a memorable half-hour performance.

“I remember he was so talented, and so warm and such a kind person even in that small of a crowd,” Nakamura said.

The resolution is a small gesture but needed to be done, she said.

“It’s an opportunity to say, this shouldn’t have happened,” Nakamura said. “It’s closing the book on that particular chapter.”

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Seeger Looks to the Future

Seeger looks to the future

 Sunday, February 8, 2009 3:06 AM EST

 By Blaise Schweitzer
Freeman staff

Like renewed allegations about Pete Seeger’s allegiance to the Communist Party, the musician and activist said rumors of the end of his recording career are greatly exaggerated. This just as bookies are computing the odds that Seeger will win another Grammy today.

It is moot that it was Seeger himself who started the rumor that his recording career is over.

“I thought it would be. Now I’m thinking of something else,” said Seeger, reached this week by telephone at his home in Beacon. Seeger, 89, said he has been having some creative rumblings of late, proving why “retirements” are almost always uncertain.

“You never can tell,” he said.

The “retirement” came up during an Associated Press story about Seeger three months ago, and was a topic of conversation at the intersection of U.S. Route 9 and State Route 9D on Jan. 31.

There, a peace protest that activist and musician Seeger often attends on the west side of Route 9 has been heckled by a “Support our Troops” and “Peace through Strength” contingent on the east side. Some of the “Eagles” as Seeger called the pro-Iraq war contingent, have accused Seeger and his pro-peace crew of giving comfort to the enemy.

Even still, those interviewed on both sides of the divide, said they wish Seeger well at the Grammys.

“His music is good. I do not believe in his political positions,” said Joe Berhosky of Poughkeepsie, pausing when pressed how to separate the message from the musician. “I didn’t say I liked his lyrics, I like his music. There’s a difference.”

Berhosky got involved in the pro-Iraq war side of the demonstration after his son joined the military two years ago, he said.

Seeger has been a frequent participant of the anto-war side of the divide for the last seven years, said organizer and peace protester Rich Carlson of the town of Wappingers. Carlson was among the first two to show up last weekend on the anti-war side of the debate.

The bitterness can get pointed, but it is often softened when Seeger is present, even among the most angry of the pro-Iraq war contingent, Carlson said.

“They don’t have a good reputation as far as dealing with people like ourselves, but they do grant Pete a lot of respect,” said Carlson.

“They’ve been posing for pictures with him,” said co-protester Liz Nedwell of Wappingers Falls.

Another “Eagle” protester, Dennis Maloney of LaGrange, acknowledged that he’s been around as some of the veterans have posed with photos with the peace activist. Maloney said he doesn’t wish Seeger ill, but he still resents what he sees as Seeger’s communist leanings and his belief that Seeger and his ilk have given “comfort to the enemy.”

Having said that, he admitted his crew gave “Pete” sunscreen and water when Seeger came to one of the cross-intersection vigils during a particularly hot summer day last year.

Seeger said he appreciated that.

“I’m glad we live in a country where we can disagree without trying to shoot each other. And one of them came over and talked with us for a bit and I think that’s a step forward,” Seeger said.

He doesn’t get angry at the oft-repeated accusation that he is a self-described member of the Communist Party.

“I don’t get mad about silly things about that. I’m sad for them that they haven’t woken up,” he said. “I drifted out of the Communist Party about 60 years ago. … The whole human race is tripped up by words. I suspect the word “the,” you know? THE solution. THE savior. THE revolution. I point out that when you study anthropology you learn that all of us were descended from tribal communists if you go back far enough.”

Like organizer Carlson, Seeger sees no reason to stop the seven-year anti-war protest.

“As long as an accident may happen sooner or later it will and it could be 2,000 years from now, but some insane person will say, ‘I know how to solve this problem.’ And if it’s not an atom bomb, it could be a biological weapon or something else,” he said.

In addition to the Lifetime Grammy Award Seeger received in 1993 and his 1996 Folk Grammy, Seeger’s awards have ranged from the Presidential Medal of the Arts to a Lifetime Legends medal from the Library of Congress.

Seeger is most known for his hits “Where Have All the Flowers gone,” “If I Had a Hammer” and “Turn, Turn, Turn.” A member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, his latest album, “At 89,” is up for a Grammy tonight in the Best Traditional Folk Album catogory.

Seeger will not attend the awards ceremony. He doesn’t like to travel much farther than he can comfortably drive from his Beacon home. One exception was his participation in the Obama inauguration, alongside Bruce Springsteen.

“He invited me and he also arranged for transportation,” Seeger said. “I didn’t have to worry about transportation or how to get there or how to get home.”

Although he shook hands with Barack Obama and his family during the festivities, he did not give the new president any advice.

“At one time I thought of writing him a letter reminding him that Lincoln put in his cabinet some of his rivals who wanted to be president, …and there were a lot of people who thought ‘these people ought to be nominated for president.’ Well Obama did this, he didn’t need my advice.”

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