Archive for May, 2013

Pete and Peggy Seeger in Concert Tomorrow in Schenectady, New York

Folk icon Pete Seeger marks milestone anniversary

Published: Wednesday, May 08, 2013


SCHENECTADY — “Somewhere along the way, Pete Seeger learned how to make mulch out of a bucket of spit,” said Margie Rosenkranz of the Eighth Step, which will present the folk icon with his sister, Peggy, as part of the organization’s 45th anniversary Sunday on the main stage at Proctors.

For decades, Rosenkranz has struggled with how to best present folk music to the general public. Do you even call the music “folk?” Is the Eighth Step a “coffeehouse,” especially when it’s staging an event like Sunday’s in a theater that holds almost 3,000 people?

Folk music, for centuries, has presented the hopes, wishes and wisdom of common people. “(Folk musicians) try to make a living on a sub-industrial level, so they don’t get into censorship,” Rosenkranz explained. “You want to write what you want to write and have an audience sing it to.”

Seeger said it this way: “People with money can break up any big thing they want. I’m sure that’s how they broke up the Socialist Party and the Communist Party and Lord knows what else. But what are the people with money going to do about millions of small organizations? They don’t know where to start. They break up three of them, and four more like them spring up.” Seeger has been singing at “small organizations” while thinking globally and acting locally for more than 70 years.

He celebrated his 94th birthday May 3. When I asked him how he was, he said, “My standard answer is if I could remember, I’d tell you.” He’s the man who made “We Shall Overcome” the mantra of the civil rights movement. He brought focus to the effort to clean up the Hudson River with the sloop Clearwater, He has stood tall for the common man from the moment he first stepped on the stage. Humble to the point of being mistaken for naïve, Seeger does not consider himself a singer, but rather a song leader, and can’t believe he has the power to “fill an old movie theater with 2,000 people.”

Rosenkranz first presented Seeger at a 1984 fundraiser at Page Hall and has worked with him at the Clearwater Festival, Pumpkin Sail and Eighth Step ever since. She remembers the first time this emperor of folk met the late, local Caffè Lena queen, Lena Spencer, in the 1980s. “He walked over to Lena and took her hand, bowed and said, ‘Good afternoon, my lady.” Lena looked him squarely in the eye and said imperiously, “Hello, Peter,” Rosenkranz recalled.

Seeger today spins off anecdotes like football fans eat wings. He told me one story about African American singer Paul Robeson’s 1949 concert that ended with the KKK throwing rocks through the windows of concert-goers’ cars. Reflecting back on that incident, he said, “I’ve made a lot of stupid mistakes in my life, but at least I’m still alive, even though there was a thriving branch of the Ku Klux Klan only about three miles away from me. And I’ve often wondered why they didn’t come up and shoot me down or burn down my house or something, but I found out some members of the Ku Klux Klan had some family members who said, ‘You do what you want with Seeger and you’ll regret it. Everybody will be singing his Goddamn songs.’ ”

Seeger took several of those stones that landed inside his Jeep and put them into the fireplace he was building for his log cabin. “This (incident) was like an inoculation for America,” he says today. “You know when you get a needle in your arm, your arm gets a case of smallpox. The rest of your body gets alerted and does not get smallpox.”

He has a positive vision of the future, which promises to permeate this celebratory event Sunday.

“My mantra today is the agricultural revolution took thousands of years. The industrial revolution took hundreds of years, but the information revolution is only taking decades, and if we use it and use the brain God gave us, who knows what miracles may happen in the next few years.”


Pete and Peggy Seeger

Where: Eighth Step, Proctor’s Theater, 432 State St., Schenectady

When: 7 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $24, $34 and $54; call (518) 434-1703 or go to


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 Celebrating Pete Seeger, America’s Troubadour, on his 94th Birthday by Randy Shaw‚    May. 02‚ 2013  from BeyondChron: The Voice of the Rest
Pete Seeger, arguably the person most responsible for the revival and popularity of folk music in the United States, turns 94 on May 3. Seeger’s unparalleled life led him to engage in nearly all of the leading social movements of the 20th century, including the labor sit ins in the 1930’s, the economic justice campaigns of the 1940’s, fighting the blacklist and promoting peace in the 1950’s, the civil rights movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s and the environmental movement that began in the 1970’s. Fortunately, Seeger’s extensive writings are now available in a new book, Pete Seeger: In His Own Words, selected and edited by Rob Rosenthal and Sam Rosenthal.  The book offers unusual insight into Seeger’s motivations, and for his relentless optimism in the face of adversity. Seeger has spoken the truth for nearly 100 years, and his writings offer inspiration to all those working for peace, justice and for a better world.
Pete Seeger is often described as an icon. This is an apt term for someone who popularized the notion of socially responsible singing in the 20th century, and, along with Harry Belafonte, was among the leading combined cultural figure/activists of his time.  Seeger linked Woody Guthrie to Bob Dylan, and then added a connection to Bruce Springsteen; the latter revived many of Seeger’s songs in his landmark The Seeger Sessions recording.
If you know little about Seeger, I strongly suggest viewing the 2007 documentary, Pete Seeger: The Power of Song. It includes remarkable footage of Seeger from the 1930’s to the present, including his singing in the fields of Mississippi to young civil rights activists affiliated with SNCC. The video will lead many to want to learn more about this remarkable man, which is why Rob and Sam Rosenthal’s book of selected letters from Seeger is so important.
A Man of Principle
Pete Seeger has been, above all, a man of principle. He sacrificed a lucrative singing career with the Weavers (their hit, Goodnight Irene, sold over 2 million copies in a single year) because he refused to name names before a Congressional committee. He was kept off network television for seventeen years because of this blacklist, and when he finally returned he gave a kick in the pants to his adversaries by singing his anti-war anthem, Waist Deep in the Big Muddy on the Smothers Brothers Show in 1967. CBS then censored Seeger’s appearance, but thanks to the activism of Tommy Smothers Seeger was allowed to return to the show and sing the song in 1968.
Among the letters uncovered by the Rosenthal’s is one from 1957 titled “The Bar of Judgment.” It includes Seeger’s review of a 1956 album by Burl Ives, in which Seeger describes Ives’ work as “one of the very best collections you can find of sailors’ chanteys and ballads.” He concludes his review by “giving thanks to Burl Ives” for producing such a fine work.
What does this letter tell us about Pete Seeger? Seeger notes in the letter that many were surprised by his positive review considering that Ives was brought before the House Un-American Committee and “fingered, like any common stool-pigeon, some of his early radical associates of the early 1940’s.” Seeger notes that Ives did this “only to preserve his lucrative contracts,” which makes his action “even more despicable.”
Yet Seeger was able to put aside his personal feelings about Ives and write a review that promoted Ives’ album, saying “a good book is useful no matter who wrote it.” At the time, Seeger was still blacklisted, and Ives was reaping commercial success that-absent the blacklist Seeger would also have enjoyed.
Yet Seeger never became bitter, and never sacrificed his principles for money. His musical career was put on hold for years while he lived with his family in a cabin lacking indoor plumbing he built in Beacon, New York on the Hudson River. He would go on to lead the successful effort to restore and revive the Hudson River, an effort described in Seeger’s letters that reveal him to be a master community organizer in addition to all of his other skills.
The Seeger Musical Legacy
If you take a look at the songs Seeger wrote, you will find many associated with him missing. That’s because Seeger was the chief popularize of such Woody Guthrie songs as This Land is Your Land. He also enabled the world to learn the songs of Huddie Ledbettter (aka Leadbelly). Among the letters in the book —“I Knew Leadbelly”—describes the 17 year old Seeger meeting Ledbetter, who wrote Goodnight, Irene and other hits.
In another letter, Seeger recounts that Paul Robeson “was the hero of my youth.” He attended Robeson’s Madison Square Concert in the late 1930’s, and was also present at the 1949 Peekskill riots where right-wing fascists aligned with local police tried to kill the legendary black singer.
The civil rights anthem We Shall Overcome is widely known today because Pete Seeger popularized it in his 1948 edition of “People’s Songs.” He describes the roots of the song in a letter, and how he learned of it in 1947 from Zilphia Horton of the Highlander Fold School.
It’s no wonder that Dylan, Springsteen and virtually every great singer who aspired to reclaim folk traditions revere Pete Seeger. This single man has known all of the folk icons of the 20th Century (he also reclaimed folk songs with Alan Lomax) and still performs concerts into his 90’s!
Bruce Springsteen joined Seeger at the 2009 concert that preceded Barack Obama’s inauguration. In typical Seeger fashion, he sang the version of This Land is Your Land that criticized private property and the nation’s mistreatment of the poor, rather than the sanitized version that has replaced it in schools and more “mainstream” recordings.
Pete Seeger is one of the greatest Americans of the past century. Like Tom Joad, wherever there was a struggle for justice, he was there.
The Rosenthal’s (the father Rob is a professor at Wesleyan University and son Sam is a musician) have done a tremendous service in sorting through Seeger’s file cabinets to retrieve these letters. They have produced a book that all Seeger admirers will want to read.
Randy Shaw is Editor of BeyondChron. He sang “If I Had a Hammer,” “Passing Through” and other Seeger songs as a youth in summer camp.

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Birthday Shoutout: Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger, the grand old man of American music, turns 94 years old today. Wherever he celebrates, we hope he’s picking a banjo.

Seeger was a founding member of two legendary and influential folk groups – the politically charged Almanac Singers and then The Weavers, whose sweet harmonies and affinity for traditional songs made their social commentary more subtly subversive.

In the 1960s, Seeger was vocally opposed to the Vietnam War and the nuclear arms race. Booked to perform on the Smothers Brothers’ variety show, Seeger got into a battle with network censors over whether he could play “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy,” an allegorical song about LBJ and Vietnam. (Singer Nanci Griffith would later point out that while Elvis was considered a rebel because the networks had to censor his swiveling hips, Seeger was the real deal because they tried to censor his actual message.)

A great lover of music history, Seeger could take an old spiritual such as “We Shall Overcome” and introduce it to a wider audience in a way that would help listeners understand its significance.

He still writes and records in his 90s, combining music with spoken word, and he still delights in leading a crowd through Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land.” (Guthrie wrote on the face of his guitar that “This Machine Kills Fascists.” Seeger took inspiration from that and printed on the face of his banjo: “This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender.”),0,850969.story

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