Archive for May, 2009

Pete Seeger to Speak at Memorial Day Service


Memorial Day parade and service – Village of Fishkill. 10:30 a.m. Monday. Parade from Church Street to Monument Square, Broad and Main streets, where memorial service takes place. Guest speaker is Pete Seeger. Hosted by the village and VFW Post No. 1286. 845-897-4430.


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Review: The Protest Singer: An Intimate Portrait of Pete Seeger by Kel Munger

The Protest Singer: An Intimate Portrait of Pete Seeger
Alec Wilkinson

By Kel Munger 

Pete Seeger never meant to be a well-known and controversial folk singer. That much is clear from Alec Wilkinson’s short but sweet biography. But singing came naturally to Seeger, and his fascination with folk music led to his gathering variants of songs and recording what usually became the canonical version.

Seeger also didn’t intend to be a symbol of leftist politics and stubborn American honor, as he became with his 1955 appearance before the House Un-American Activities Committee. But The Protest Singer includes the transcript from Seeger’s appearance as an appendix, which tells far more about his no-nonsense American attitudes than anything—except perhaps Seeger’s songs.

Wilkinson, who published a shorter version of The Protest Singer in The New Yorker, spent time with Seeger on his farm. He leads readers to see that, at his core, the great folk musician is about as conservative as it gets. Seeger believes the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights mean exactly what they say; his insistence on individual rights being considered something other than conservative says more about the times in which Seeger lived than it does about the songwriter himself.

The Protest Singer is less a full biography than it is a thoughtful essay about Seeger’s life, published as he turned 90. It bears the stamp of Seeger’s personality as he is today, looking back on a life that included most of the great struggles of the 20th century.

We learn that Seeger left off his Communist membership because he “never liked the idea anyway of belonging to a secret organization.” That didn’t—and doesn’t—stop the right from characterizing Seeger as a left-wing threat, even when singing something as innocuous as “Old Dan Tucker.”

But it’s songs like “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy,” an anti-war allegory from the Vietnam era, that get people in an uproar. The song was censored on his 1967 Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour TV appearance.

And the big controversy around Seeger threatening to pull the plug on Bob Dylan? You know, when Dylan infamously “went electric” at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965? Seeger’s complaint wasn’t about Dylan’s amplifier—Howlin’ Wolf already used one—but that the distortion made it impossible to understand the lyrics; he thought “Maggie’s Farm” was a great song.

Wilkinson details things like how Seeger built his family’s home with his own hands, with the help of friends, and how he made a living singing even though he was blacklisted and banned from TV and radio. Now, thanks to Bruce Springsteen’s popular cover album of Seeger’s songs, the songwriter’s a little better known among the younger set—but not too much.

The folk singer’s portrait emerges as one of a man more concerned with songs that people actually sing than with what they ought to sing, more concerned with what people actually do than with what they ought to do. And this is rare: Seeger is more a musical journalist with a deep curiosity for the lives of others than anything resembling an ideologue.

As Wilkinson describes in detail, some students at college concerts think Seeger is the father of rocker Bob Seger. Others are too young to even make that misconnection. But by the time Seeger leaves the stage, they’ve all sung along to “I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night” and understand that American folk music is about life, complete with heartbreak, trouble and hard work.


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At 90, Folk Musician Pete Seeger Has No Intention of Slowing Down

At 90, Folk Musician Pete Seeger Has No Intention of Slowing Down

12 May 2009
Even if you don’t know his name, you’ve almost certainly heard Pete Seeger’s music. Over the last 70 years, Seeger, who turned 90 early this month, has written songs so iconic – “Turn Turn Turn,” and “If I Had A Hammer” are two examples – they seem like they’ve always been part of the American landscape. He’s a man who’s lived many lives, from protest singer to figure of suspicion in the McCarthy years, environmentalist and folk hero.
On his 90th birthday, the legendary folk singer and song writer Pete Seeger was honored at a concert at New York’s Madison Square Garden. Fellow musicians of all ages joined him on stage, singing the folk and protest songs that Seeger made popular decades ago.

“If I didn’t think music could help save the human race, I wouldn’t be making music,” Seeger said.

Path to fame

Pete Seeger first came to fame in the 1940s, as a member of the Almanac Singers, then of the Weavers, and then went on his own. He was a founder of the Newport Folk Festival, where his performances in the early 1960s were captured by filmmaker Murray Lerner.

Yet Seeger says he never planned to become a musician. The son of classical musicians, he could play several instruments by age five. But as a teenager, he says, he wanted to spend his life in the woods.

“I said I’m going to be a hermit,” he said. “That’s the only way you can be honest in this world of hypocrisy. And I really meant it.”

Music was means to an end

When Seeger took up music, it was to advance his political views, especially for civil rights and social justice, peace and the environment. He believes he made his greatest contribution before 1960, setting an example for younger singers like Bob Dylan.

“I showed a generation of young people, you don’t have to be a hypocrite yourself. You can find people who would like to sing with you and to listen to your songs. And now there are tens of thousands of us,” Seeger said.

These days, Seeger often sings with his grandson, musician Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, as in a video by the Hudson Valley Music Channel at last summer’s “Corn Festival” in Beacon, New York, where he lives.

It was one of many events to benefit Clearwater sloops – tall ships that are environmental classrooms sailing the Hudson River. Seeger launched Clearwater in 1969 to publicize the need to clean up polluted rivers. Today, the Hudson around Beacon is safe for swimming.

“If there is a world here in a hundred years, it will be because hundreds, millions of people used the brains God gave us,” Seeger said. “And they may do a simple little thing every day, like putting the trash in the right place, or finding a way not to use a car.”

A simple life

Seeger still lives on the mountain where he and his wife Toshi built a log cabin in 1949. And he still chops wood almost every day.

They were living there in 1955 when, as a radical and former Communist, Seeger was called to testify about his political beliefs and associates before the House Un-American Activities Committee. He refused, saying the demand violated his First Amendment right of free speech.

Six years later, he was found guilty of contempt of Congress and sentenced to a year in prison – although the case was later dismissed.

As an old man, Seeger is at home in his country.

Some of his songs have become akin to national anthems – like his version of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land,” which he performed at the Lincoln Memorial concert to celebrate President Obama’s inauguration.

Seeger led the huge crowd in a sing-along, as he does wherever he goes.



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Star-Studded Celebration Marks Pete Seeger’s 90th Birthday

Star-Studded Celebration Marks Pete Seeger’s 90th Birthday

12 May 2009

When most Americans approach the age of 65, their thoughts turn to retirement, and slowing down to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Then, there’s legendary folksinger-songwriter Pete Seeger, who celebrated his 90th birthday May 3, by performing at a star-studded fundraising concert in New York City. Seeger is not only a longtime activist, bu also a music legend.

Although the goals of world peace and environmental purity Pete Seeger has championed through song for more than 60 years still haven’t materialized, he isn’t giving up. The 90-year-old troubadour joined Bruce Springsteen, Bela Fleck and others, performing at a concert to raise money for Hudson River Sloop Clearwater Inc., the environmental group that Seeger launched to help clean up New York’s Hudson River. And you shouldn’t be amazed that the singer decided to celebrate with a benefit, as Pete Seeger has long fought for causes he believes are worthwhile. On his most recent album, album, Pete Seeger at 89, he talks about the need to be active and involved in the world around us.

“Now you and I, no matter where you live, has a job that everyone has to get involved in,” Seeger said. “Not just cleaning up a river, but an entire word, before it gets blown up.”

Power of music

For many, Pete Seeger will always be America’s most-famous, and infamous, folk singer. Born in New York City, he grew up believing that song has the power to change the world. Seeger dropped out of Harvard College in 1938, and began working with music archivist Alan Lomax, assisting him on song-collecting trips through the American south. In the early-1940s, Seeger formed The Almanac Singers, a highly-politicized singing group known for recording union songs and anti-war anthems.

While the start of World War II meant the end of The Almanac Singers, a stint in the Army didn’t mean the end of Pete Seeger’s singing career. In 1948, he formed The Weavers, who soon became one of America’s favorite singing groups. Poet Carl Sandberg wrote, “The Weavers are out of the grassroots of America. When I hear America singing, The Weavers are there.”
One of the most-famous songs by The Weavers, “Tzena, Tzena, Tzena”, makes an appearance on Pete Seeger at 89, albeit in a slightly different version. The 21st Century version includes not only an English translation of Israeli song, but also a translation in Arabic. And as Pete Seeger describes it, all the parts harmonize with each other.

Communist witch hunt

As popular as it was, “Tzena Tzena Tzena” and his other hit songs couldn’t rescue Pete Seeger from the Communist witch hunts of the early-1950s. Three members of The Weavers were named as members of the Communist Party. The group was soon ostracized. Despite selling millions of records, The Weavers couldn’t get hired for concerts, and were dropped by their record label. In 1955, Pete Seeger was called to Washington to testify before the U.S. House of Representatives Un-American Activities Committee, where he was questioned about his political associations. While he was willing to talk about his own political beliefs, Seeger refused to name other members of the various political groups he joined. “I am not going to answer any questions as to my associations, my philosophical or my religious 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,” he told the committee.

Because of that, on July 26, 1956, the House of Representatives voted 373 – 9 to cite Pete Seeger, playwright Arthur Miller, and six others for contempt. Five years later, Seeger’s case finally came to trial. He was found guilty and sentenced to a year in prison, resulting in worldwide protests. Although the verdict was overturned, that dismissal didn’t mean a return to business as usual for Pete. He was still blacklisted (ostracized) by many organizations, making it difficult to book concerts. Pete Seeger didn’t return to U.S. radio and television until the late-1960’s.

Presidential honors

All the more remarkable is, that in 1994, Pete Seeger returned to Washington to receive the Presidential Medal of the Arts, the nation’s highest artistic honor. Two years later he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And this past January, he performed at the Lincoln Memorial in a concert to celebrate the presidency of Barack Obama. At 90, Pete Seeger has a list of honors longer than the neck on his famed banjo; not bad for a man who says he never planned to make music his career.

“I did not want to be a professional musician. I liked to sing, but I thought the music business was full of hypocrisy. I did, though, go sing in the schools and in summer camps,”Seeger noted. “And then some of the kids grew up and went to college. And I, during the ‘frightened ’50s’ when the blacklist was in the popular music business, I just went from college to college to college to college to college to college to college. The most important job I ever did. I could have kicked the bucket [died] in 1960. My job was done! After me, a whole bunch of young people came along: Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, and a whole lot of others. And now, it’s out of control.”

Optimism endures

It was Pete Seeger who changed the words of an old spiritual from “We Will Overcome” to “We Shall Overcome”, and then sang it to American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., who went on to make it an anthem of the civil right movement in the 1960s. Seeger’s optimism endures. The new political sing-along, “If It Can’t Be Reduced”, and the other songs on Pete Seeger at 89, are infused with the feeling that anything can happen, and everything is possible if we all work together.


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Set List: Pete Seeger’s 90th Birthday Show at Madison Square Garden

Set List: Pete Seeger’s 90th Birthday Show at Madison Square Garden

Sunday night at Madison Square Garden, 51 artists played a 4-1/2 hour concert for 18,000 people in salute to the 90th birthday of folk great Pete Seeger.

Participating were some of the people that followed in Seeger’s footsteps, like Tom Paxton, all the way up to modern artists not normally associated with the folk genre, such as Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello.

Thank you to Jessica R. and an anonymous reader for song information and a huge thanks to Matthew V. at CasaCoisalinda who helped in filling in the holes and setting us straight on the running order.

  • Menomonee Love SongPete Seeger with a group of Native American musicians
  • If I Had a HammerJohn Mellencamp
  • A Ride Back HomeJohn Mellencamp
  • Tim Robbins tribute
  • To My Old Brown Earth – New York City Labor Chorus
  • Which Side Are You OnBruce Cockburn, Ani DiFranco
  • John HenryTom Paxton, Tom Morello, Eric Weissberg, Jacob Silver
  • Dear Mr. President – Michael Franti, Laura Cortese, Eric Weissberg, Patterson Hood
  • Oh, Freedom – Patterson Hood, Toshi Reagon, Bernice Johnson Reagon, Abigail Washburn, Guy Davis, Jacob Silver, New York City Labor Chorus
  • InternationaleBilly Bragg
  • Union Maid – Billy Bragg, Mike & Ruthy Merenda, Dar Williams, New York City Labor Chorus
  • Sailin’ Up, Sailin’ DownPete Seeger, Taj Mahal, Steve Earle, Toshi Reagon, Warren Haynes, Tao Rodruguez-Seeger
  • False From True Steve Earle, Warren Haynes, Buddy Miles
  • The Water is WideEmmylou Harris, Teddy Thompson, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Rufus and Martha Wainwright, New York City Labor Chorus
  • Dink’s SongBruce Cockburn, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Rufus and Martha Wainwright
  • Toshi Seeger and Kisses Sweeter Than Wine John Seeger, Joan Baez
  • Banjo Medley (with Blue Skies & Happy Birthday) – Bela Fleck, Tony Trischka
  • Waist Deep in Muddy Water – Tom Morello, Taj Mahal
  • Where Have All the Flowers GoneJoan Baez
  • The Torn Flag (poem) – Ruby Dee /Jesu, Joy of Man’s DesireBela Fleck
  • Bring ‘Em Home – Tyler Ramsey, Ben Bridwell, Patterson Hood, Warren Haynes, Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, Preservation Hall Jazz Band
  • We Shall OvercomePete Seeger, Emmylou Harris, Joan Baez, Toshi Reagon, Bernice Johnson Reagon, Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, Billy Bragg, Keller Williams, Ani DiFranco, Ruby Dee, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, New York City Labor Choir
  • Intermission
  • Norman Lear’s Tribute to Pete Seeger
  • Amazing Grace – Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, Pete Seeger teaching and leading the audience in harmony
  • Garbage – Tom Chapin, Michael Mask, Oscar the Grouch
  • There’s a Hole in the BucketKris Kristofferson and Ani DiFranco
  • Little BoxesTommy Sands and his Irish Band
  • Michael Row the Boat Ashore – Rufus and Martha Wainwright, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Tony Trischka, Jacob Silver, Casey Driese, Tim Robbins, Miles Robbins, New York City Labor Choir
  • Freedom Richie Havens
  • Jacob’s Ladder Joan Baez, Mike and Ruthy Merenda, Scarlett Lee Moore, Jay Unger, Molly Mason, Larry Long, New York City Labor Choir
  • Oh Mary Don’t You WeepArlo Guthrie, Del McCoury, John Hall, Tony Trischka, Preservation Hall Jazz Band
  • Worried Man BluesArlo Guthrie, Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, Jay Unger, Molly Mason, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott
  • Gather Round the Throne – Ben Harper, Ellen Verdes, Sue Chase, Tom Morello
  • Letter to Pete (Reading) – Peggy Seeger
  • Maggie’s FarmKris Kristofferson, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Richie Havens, Warren Haynes Taj Mahal, Keller Williams, Jay Unger, Molly Mason
  • Turn, Turn, Turn (to Everything There is a Season)Roger McGuinn, Ben Bridwell and Tyler Ramsey
  • Precious FriendEmmylou Harris, Arlo Guthrie, Tony Trischka, Preservation Hall Jazz Band
  • Rye Whiskey – Dave Matthews
  • The Ghost of Tom Joad Bruce Springsteen and Tom Morello
  • This Land is Your Land Pete Seeger & All
  • Happy Birthday – All
  • When the Saints Go Marching InPreservation Hall Jazz Band
  • Well May the World Go – All
  • This Little Light of Mine – All
  • Goodnight IrenePete Seeger & All


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Letter written by Silvio Rodriguez to Pete Seeger

Letter written by Silvio Rodriguez to Pete SeegerBy Redaction AHORA  / Wednesday, 06 May 2009  /


Admired and beloved Maestro Pete Seeger:In these moments the tribute concert that dozens of singers are justly offering you is being celebrated. Passing through my mind are some of the times that I have had the privilege of enjoying your talent, which has seduced multitudes.I remember you in Havana, singing in solidarity along with the Sound Experimentation Group; I remember you in that tour that was dedicated to Victor Jara, through several cities in Italy; and I am also reliving that frosty night in February 1980 in which, responding to your call, we traveled from New York to Poughkeepsie and we listened to your “Snow, Snow,” the masterwork of someone asking questions of a winter landscape.

I tried to come back to be with you today, but, as you well know, I was not allowed to get there by those who do not want the US and Cuba to get together, to sing to each other, to talk to each other, to understand each other. They are the ones who think that the world is divided into the powerful and the weak; the ones who only appreciate those who are rich and strong. They are the ones who do not forgive us for the fact that, even though we are small, we have decided to live standing up on our feet. Reality cries out that these brutes must be getting fewer and fewer in number, but somehow that minority still rules and gives the orders. Some of them saw danger in the idea that we would meet and that a simple act of brotherhood would symbolize two neighbor peoples who can agree in song and in affection.

But not just me, dear Pete: all my worthy and no doubt improvable people admire you, respect you, and celebrate your honorable nine decades defending social justice, peace, and culture. Here no one sees you as a danger, but as an extraordinary friend whom we are not allowed to embrace as freely as we would like. That is why not just I, but all of this Cuba that loves you, blockaded still by the abusers, is at your side now singing your prophetic ‘We Shall Overcome’ and the ‘Guantanamera’ of our Martí.

A kiss for Toshi and a big hug for you from

Silvio Rodriguez Dominguez

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Cuba’s Silvio Rodríguez Claims Seeger Birthday Ban

Cuba’s Rodríguez Claims Seeger Birthday Ban
May 06, 2009Billboard

By Howell Llewellyn, Madrid

Leading Cuban singer songwriter Silvio Rodríguez has criticised the U.S. government for not granting him a visa to perform at the Madison Square Garden concert in New York to mark Pete Seeger’s 90th birthday. Dozens of stars and musician friends played alongside Seeger at the May 3 concert, including Bruce Springsteen and Joan Baez.

“I think the Department of State’s attitude is very contradictory with the wish expressed by President Obama for a rapprochement with Cuba,” Rodríguez told the Cuban Communist party daily Granma.

He added that he felt “as embargoed and discriminated” by the Obama administration “as by other [previous] U.S. governments.”

Rodríguez, who has known Seeger for decades, was invited to perform at the tribute. He was in Paris 48 hours ahead of the concert, but decided to fly to Havana 24 hours before the event when he had not been granted the visa. Rodríguez criticised “the lack of respect shown to the invitation by the Department of State.”

Seeger is widely admired in Cuba, which he has visited five times, for his opposition to the U.S. economic blockade against the island. His version of “Guantanamera” made the Cuban song internationally famous.

In a letter to Seeger published on the Cuban web site, Rodríguez says “I tried to be with you again, but as you know, those that do not want the United States and Cuba to join, sing, speak and understand together, would not let me arrive… Some of them saw a danger in us meeting up to share a simple act of fraternity that would symbolize two neighboring peoples coinciding in songs and affection.”

Rodríguez, a former elected member of the Cuban parliament, was nominated for a 2007 Latin Grammy award for best album by a singer songwriter. “Erase Que Se Era” (Unicornio) is a compilation of songs Rodríguez wrote between 1968-70.

Together with Pablo Milanés, Rodríguez helped found the politicized nueva trova genre a decade after the 1959 revolution.


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