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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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Pete and Peggy Seeger in Concert on May 12, 2013


Peggy and Pete Seeger will perform their only joint concert of the year, Sunday, May 12, 2013 at 7 PM, produced by Margie Rozencrantz at Eighth Step at Proctor’s in Schenectady, New York. Tickets are $20, $30 most seats and $50 for preferred front rows as a benefit for Camp Killooleet in Vermont. Ticket information: 518-346-6204.

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Pete Seeger: “You Stick Together ‘Til It’s Won”

Thursday, 06 December 2012 09:29   By Kim Ruehl, YES! Magazine

Book Review: Gleaned from letters, essays, and articles, “Pete Seeger: In His Own Words” reveals how the celebrated folk singer has considered, at every turn, what it means to sing out in a world where the din of injustice is deafening.

When a pair of writers expressed interest in publishing Pete Seeger: In His Own Words, one of Seeger’s first requests was “Don’t make me out to be a saint.”

Banjo in hand, Seeger has championed causes from labor to civil rights to the environment, revived our oldest folk songs, and co-authored new folk classics like “If I Had a Hammer,” so the impulse to portray him as saintly is understandable. But to do so would be a misunderstanding of his message: It doesn’t take a saint to make the world a better place. Real, flawed people do it all the time.

“When I sing [‘Amazing Grace’],” he writes, “I usually remind audiences that the words were written by a man who had for ten years been captain of a slave ship, but in his thirties he quit and … started the antislavery movement in England. He turned his life around and gave us hope that we can turn our country around.”

Seeger is no more a superman than he is a saint. As his letters attest, he has long battled fear, loneliness, and the fear of failure that stems from an overwhelming sense of duty—to his family, his community, his country. He has considered, at every turn, what it means to sing out in a world where the din of injustice is often deafening. But his songs assert that to sing is to recognize the power of one’s own voice, to declare and defend its worth.

In His Own Words is a collection gleaned from Seeger’s letters, essays, and articles. (Some previously unpublished writing in this collection is from the ephemera of decades that Seeger kept stored in his barn.) It begins with a letter from 13-year-old Pete to his mother, asking for funds so that he can purchase a “big banjo and play in the very little jazz band,” then proceeds through his involvement in the labor movement, World War II, McCarthyism, the civil rights movement, and onward to the present day.

We see Seeger’s development over distinct phases of life: as a young man distraught at the world’s injustice, and as a young soldier frustrated at being kept stateside during the war. As a musician impressed by friends and mentors Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, and Lee Hays. As a new father delighted by his children, a mature activist worrying for his grandchildrens’ future, and as an older man committed to a legacy of clean water for every living soul along a 315-mile river.

To consider Seeger’s life is to learn a lesson in citizenship. His personal story unfolded during the century when America came into its own as a superpower. Even as Seeger worked to keep traditional music alive, he was unable to sit still while history sped forward.

In His Own Words displays how Seeger’s unique blend of practicality, optimism, and humanism shaped his life of engagement with social responsibility. When he and his family were attacked during the Peekskill Riots in 1949, Seeger took home the stones that had broken his car windows—and cemented them into his fireplace. When he and a crowd marched singing to Columbus Circle amid the thick of the Occupy movement last year, Seeger stopped to pick up a piece of trash from the sidewalk. And, when he found himself cited for contempt of Congress during the McCarthy era, Seeger sat down to write a time capsule letter to his grandchildren. “Communism,” he wrote, “has urged me on, to continually learn, to continually better myself in every way, to always give more for the common good of the working people of America and the world.”

Seeger wrote that letter at a time when he was blacklisted for his political beliefs. Two generations later, at the age of 89, he sang “This Land Is Your Land” at the inauguration concert for America’s first black president.

The pragmatism and hope that carried him to that moment is expressed in words he wrote in 1965, during the civil rights struggle and the war in Vietnam, that ring just as true today: “If the world survives these dangerous times, the folk process will go on, and music and poetry can help us teach love and common sense to foolish people who think that money and power are the important things in life.”


“If the world survives these dangerous times, the folk process will go on, and music and poetry can help us teach love and common sense to foolish people who think that money and power are the important things in life.”

“The best thing you can do is make up your mind that you will be living in an unpleasant world for much of your lives. This is not pessimism; it’s maturity—the beginning of wisdom.”

“I’m just one more grain of sand in this world, but I’d rather throw my weight, however small, on the side of what I think is right than selfishly look after my own fortunes and have to live with a bad conscience.”

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source. 


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By Kim Ruehl, YES! Magazine | Book Review –>

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Pete Seeger at Solar Jam Expo 2012 – August 17th to 19th, 2012

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Breaking barn: Pete Seeger helps sloop, museum celebrate

Breaking barn: Pete Seeger helps sloop, museum celebrate

                    by Lynn Woods on Jul 26, 2012 • 5:08 pm  — Kingston Times

Pete Seeger performs at River Day. (Photo by Phyllis McCabe)

When Pete Seeger first sailed into Kingston on the sloop Clearwater in 1969, shortly after the ship’s launch, “it was a bit of a mess. The gang cleared the debris away, we built a beautiful bonfire and people danced around the fire,” he recalled. Musicians played. It was perhaps Kingston’s darkest hour: Urban renewal had just about completed the clearing away of most of downtown Rondout, leaving a spectacle of utter devastation. But the arrival of the Clearwater marked a new beginning. It sparked the revitalization that slowly transformed the waterfront into the bustling place of cafés, parks, boat docks, galleries and enterprising commerce we know today.

But the purpose of Seeger’s surprise visit to the Hudson River Maritime Museum during its River Day festival, held on Saturday, July 21, was not to look back, but celebrate. The occasion was the groundbreaking of the new maintenance barn and educational center for the Clearwater, which, starting in November, will be berthed at the museum during the winter.

Looking youthful in jeans and a wide-brimmed hat, the 93-year-old iconic folk singer, songwriter and activist wielded one of the shovels at the ceremonial ground-breaking (strictly a photo op — the foundation of the barn has already been dug, as evident from the nearby massive disturbance of earth).  Later, he played a few songs with guitar player and singer Rick Nestler, strumming his well-worn banjo and prompting the small crowd to join in. It was impossible to resist his cheerful overtures, an evocation of the spirit of togetherness that has proved to be such a powerful impetus for Seeger’s political protests over the years, not to mention the launching of the sloop and the founding of a significant environmental organization.

‘A beginning thing’

The barn, a dream come true, marks a new, auspicious chapter for the Maritime Museum and the Kingston waterfront, noted the speakers, who stood before a backdrop of berthed tugs and a restored wooden Pennsylvania Railroad barge, open to the public for the event. “The Clearwater has been in the forefront of the future of the Hudson River and the Maritime Museum has been in the forefront of the history and heritage of the river,” said Patrick McDonough, who is the museum’s new executive director. “The museum has been the anchor of the renaissance here in Rondout and with Clearwater as a partner, greater things are happening.”

“Today we have a beginning thing,” noted Jeff Rumpf, executive director of Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, who jokingly likened the day’s event to a wedding between the two organizations.

Jack Weeks, a local physician who is vice president of the HRMM’s board, noted that the groups’ success at raising $1 million to fund the construction was “nothing short of miraculous.” The funds include a $125,000 state grant obtained with the help of Assemblyman Kevin Cahill (who could not be at the event and was represented by Kingston Common Council Majority Leader Tom Hoffay), although most of the money consists of private donations.

Much of the wood for the structure has been salvaged from oaks and other trees downed in the freak snowstorm last October, said Allan Shope, president ofClearwater’s board and co-chair of the barn building project. He noted that the building will provide the winter maintenance crew with heat and plumbing for the first time in the ship’s history.

It’ll also be a model of green building designed for future challenges. The barn will be raised so as to avoid damage from flood waters, which are expected as a result of global warming. Weeks said he is in discussion with local suppliers about installing solar panels on the roof, and heat will be provided by a radiant system in the flooring.

Raising in September

The building will be erected in an old-fashioned barn-raising on Saturday, Sept. 15, with volunteers gathering at dawn. It is scheduled to be fully functional six weeks after, at which time the sloop will be placed on a barge to undergo repairs to the aft section, of which two thirds must be replaced.

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