Pete Seeger celebrates his 91st birthday on May 3rd with a new CD, Tomorrow’s Children, due for release on July 27th by Appleseed Recordings. Tomorrow’s Children, Seeger’s first studio CD since his Grammy-winning 2008 release, At 89, is a loving snapshot of Seeger recording with children in his hometown of Beacon, NY.
Says Seeger, “The future of the entire human race lies in the hands of children so I felt this was an important collaboration.”
Starting in 2008, Seeger became a regular visitor to a local Beacon elementary school where teacher Tery Udell had been working with her fourth graders to sing and write songs about what they were studying. For more than a week, Seeger interacted with every child in the school, sharing his own music and past history and encouraging the kids to do likewise; he brought along some of the kids to perform with him at local festivals and events.
Assembling in a local studio, Seeger, producer/musician David Bernz, some of the Clearwater staff, musical friends and neighbors and, most importantly, the schoolchildren known as “The Rivertown Kids” subsequently recorded about twenty songs (all with Seeger performing vocally and/or instrumentally) that show that the values of environmental stewardship and social justice have been embraced by the youngsters. Some of the songs are Seeger staples, such as “Take It from Dr. King” (which Pete performed on “Late Night with David Letterman” last year) and “Turn, Turn, Turn” (with new verses added by Pete’s wife, Toshi), others were written by some of the adults at the sessions, but most display “the folk process” that Seeger had imparted to the kids – that adapting the lyrics of older songs to fit current situations is the key to keeping music relevant and meaningful. Three of Seeger’s tunes are given new words by the children. There’s also a new song co-written by Pete, David Bernz and author/activist Harvey Wasserman, “Solartopia,” with Pete, special guest Dar Williams, and David Bernz trading verses about the need for a nuclear-free world that uses pollution-free energy sources.
The dictum, “Think globally, act locally,” has long been a guiding Seeger principle, and in recent years he’s attracted new warriors on the global level, partly due to a trio of multi-artist tribute CDs to Pete’s music released by the Pennsylvania-based Appleseed Recordings label, which presented new versions of Pete’s songs as recorded by Bruce Springsteen, Joan Baez, Steve Earle, Jackson Browne, Natalie Merchant and other politically conscious performers. Springsteen subsequently assembled his Seeger Sessions CD, DVD and international tours to spread Seeger’s messages of music as entertainment, as education, and as social change. Last year’s 90th birthday party for Pete at Madison Square Garden included musicians from Springsteen to John Mellencamp to Dave Matthews and helped raise money for Pete’s beloved Sloop Clearwater and the nonprofit organization he founded to help preserve the Hudson River. Seeger’s most recent studio album, At 89 (2008, Appleseed), was packed with songs that directly confronted issues of ecology, activism, economically driven wars and the endangered state of the human race and earned a Grammy Award as “Best Traditional Folk Recording.”
The release of Tomorrow’s Children is cause for rejoicing. It shows Pete Seeger still doing what he does best — spreading ideas through music — and a new generation learning the lessons he teaches so lovingly and so well. Happy birthday, Pete!