The Talent, Spirit and Music of Peter Seeger

Posted by M ws On Friday, March 30, 2012 0 comments
If I could go to university again, I would choose to study contemporary music. When I was in school, I wanted to be a lawyer, writer or musician. When the time came for my son to apply to university, I wanted him to do either law or accountancy but ironically, he chose to do contemporary music. That is the circle of life for me. I still remember how he used to share with me what he learnt each semester and I confess I derived much pleasure listening to him share about protest songs and the defining music of the 1960's which I love.

The idea for this post started in the afternoon right after I finished the post on The Silent Cry from a Mother's Grieving Heart. As always, I like to post my favourite oldies in my Facebook status updates and today, I shared the link to Where Have All the Flowers Gone? by Peter, Mary and Paul. A response from a friend to that posting "All deflowered by the hedonistic days of youthhood?" made me all the more determined to write about that song and its composer.

I confess I thought it was Bob Dylan who wrote that song but was pleasantly surprised to discover that Peter Seeger composed "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" and many other songs to emerge as "a prominent singer of protest music in support of international disarmament, civil rights, and environmental causes".

According to Wikipedia:

Peter "Pete" Seeger (born May 3, 1919) is an American folk singer and was an iconic figure in the mid-20th century American folk music revival. A fixture on nationwide radio in the 1940s, he also had a string of hit records during the early 1950s as a member of The Weavers, most notably their recording of Lead Belly's "Goodnight, Irene", which topped the charts for 13 weeks in 1950. Members of The Weavers were blacklisted during the McCarthy Era.

As a song writer, he is best known as the author or co-author of :
  • "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?"
  • "If I Had a Hammer (The Hammer Song)" (composed with Lee Hays of The Weavers)
  • "Turn, Turn, Turn!" (popularized by The Byrds and I have also written about it HERE)

Seeger was one of the folksingers most responsible for popularizing the spiritual "We Shall Overcome" (also recorded by Joan Baez and many other singer-activists) that became the acknowledged anthem of the 1960s American Civil Rights Movement, soon after folk singer and activist Guy Carawan introduced it at the founding meeting of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1960. In the PBS "American Masters" episode Pete Seeger: The Power of Song, Seeger states it was he who changed the lyric from the traditional "We will overcome" to the more singable "We shall overcome".

Seeger was born in French Hospital, Midtown Manhattan. His genealogy can be traced back over 200 years. A paternal ancestor, Karl Ludwig Seeger, a physician from Wurtemburg, Germany, had emigrated to America in revolutionary times and married into an old New England family in the 1780s.

Wikipedia states that "his namesake, Pete's father, Harvard-trained composer and musicologist Charles Louis Seeger, Jr., established the first musicology curriculum in the U.S. at the University of California in 1913; helped found the American Musicological Society; and was a key founder of the academic discipline of ethnomusicology. Pete's mother, Constance de Clyver Edson, raised in Tunisia and trained at the Paris Conservatory of Music, was a concert violinist and later a teacher at the Juilliard School."

CLICK HERE to read more about his family background and how his father was forced to resign in 1918 because of his outspoken Pacifism during World War I. Charles and Constance moved back east, making Charles' parents' estate in Patterson, New York, northeast of New York City, their base of operations. When baby Pete was eighteen months old, they set out with him and his two older brothers in a home-made trailer, on a quixotic mission to bring musical uplift to the working people in the American South.

I can see how his political roots and perspective emerged even when he was a student. Wikipedia states that Seeger enrolled at Harvard College on a partial scholarship, but as he became increasingly involved with politics and folk music his grades suffered and he lost his scholarship. He dropped out of college in 1938. He dreamed of a career in journalism and also took courses in art.

Far beyond his time, Seeger was the one who introduced the Steel Pan to Americans. In 1956, then "Peter" Seeger (see film credits) and his wife, Toshi, traveled to Port of Spain, Trinidad, to seek out information on the steel pan, steel drum or "Ping-Pong" as it was sometimes called. The two searched out a local panyard and proceeded to film the construction, tuning and playing of the then new, national instrument of Trinidad-Tobago.

Today, Seeger lives in Beacon, New York and remains very engaged politically with active lifestyle in the Hudson Valley Region of New York, especially in the nearby City of Beacon, New York.

What struck me is how Peter Seeger has not wavered at all in his activism from the 1940's to the present! Take a look at his record of activities and be inspired by the talent, spirit and music of Peter Seeger that has resounded for more than half a century now!

According to Wikipedia:

On January 18, 2009, Seeger joined Bruce Springsteen, grandson Tao Rodríguez-Seeger, and the crowd in singing the Woody Guthrie song "This Land Is Your Land" in the finale of Barack Obama's Inaugural concert in Washington, D.C. The performance was noteworthy for the inclusion of two verses not often included in the song, one about a "private property" sign the narrator cheerfully ignores, and the other making a passing reference to a Depression-era relief office.

90th Birthday Celebration

On May 3, 2009, at The Clearwater Concert, dozens of musicians gathered in New York at Madison Square Garden to celebrate Seeger's 90th birthday (which was later televised on PBS during the summer),[35] ranging from Dave Matthews, John Mellencamp, Billy Bragg, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Morello, Ani DiFranco and Roger McGuinn to Joan Baez, Richie Havens, Tom Paxton, Ramblin' Jack Elliott and Arlo Guthrie. Cuban singer-songwriter Silvio Rodríguez was also invited to appear but his visa was not approved in time by the US government. Consistent with Seeger's long-time advocacy for environmental concerns, the proceeds from the event benefited the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater,[36] a non-profit organization founded by Seeger in 1966, to defend and restore the Hudson River. Seeger's 90th Birthday was also celebrated at The College of Staten Island on May 4.

Other recent appearances

On March 16, 2007, Pete Seeger, his sister Peggy, his brothers Mike and John, his wife Toshi, and other family members spoke and performed at a symposium and concert sponsored by the American Folklife Center in honor of the Seeger family, held at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.,[38] where Pete Seeger had been employed by the Archive of American Folk Song 67 years earlier.

On September 29, 2008, the 89-year-old singer-activist, once banned from commercial TV, made a rare national TV appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman, singing "Take It From Dr. King". In September 2008, Appleseed Recordings released At 89, Seeger's first studio album in 12 years. On September 19, Pete Seeger made his first appearance at the 52nd Monterey Jazz Festival, particularly notable because the Festival does not normally feature folk artists.

On April 18, 2009, Pete Seeger performed in front of a small group of Earth Day celebrants at Teachers College in New York City. Among the songs he performed were "This Land is Your Land", "Take it From Dr. King", and "She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain".

A number of Pete Seeger celebrations are being organized in Australia including a revival of the musical play about his life One Word ... WE!, a DVD of his 1963 concert in Melbourne Town Hall, and concerts in folk clubs and folk festivals. One Word ... WE! was performed at the Tom Mann Theatre in Surry Hills, Sydney, on 12, 13 and 14 June 2009. It was written by Maurie Mulheron, who is also musical director and a performer. Frank Barnes directed.

In 2010, still active at the age of 91, Seeger co-wrote and performed a song "God's Counting on Me, God's Counting on You" with Lorre Wyatt, commenting on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.[39]

On October 21, 2011, at age 92, Pete Seeger was part of a solidarity march with Occupy Wall Street to Columbus Circle in New York City. The march began with Seeger and fellow musicians exiting Symphony Space (95th and Broadway), where they had performed as part of a benefit for Seeger's Clearwater organization. Thousands of people crowded Pete Seeger by the time they reached Columbus Circle. Pete Seeger performed with his grandson, Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, David Amram, and other celebrated musicians. The event, promoted under the name #OccupyTheCircle, was LiveStreamed, and dubbed by some as "The Pete Seeger March".

He contributed a spoken version of Forever Young to the 2012 album Chimes of Freedom: Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International.

Thank you, Peter Seeger, for your life, your music, inspiration and for being such a wonderfully dedicated, spirited and committed activist to every cause in which you believed!

Enjoy the following videos:

1. If I had a hammer - Recorded Live in Australia in 1963

2. If I had a hammer - Recorded live at Wolftrap, August 8, 1993.

After watching both videos, you can see that despite moving on in years, Peter Seeger is still as robust and spirited in his delivery of the song!

3. Where have all the flowers gone?

In July 26, 1956, the House of Representatives voted 373 to 9 to cite Pete Seeger and seven others (including playwright Arthur Miller) for contempt, as they failed to cooperate with House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in their attempts to investigate alleged subversives and communists. Pete Seeger testified before the HUAC in 1955.

In one of Pete's darkest moments, when his personal freedom, his career, and his safety were in jeopardy, a flash of inspiration ignited this song.

The song was stirred by a passage from Mikhail Sholokhov's novel "And Quie Flows the Don". Around the world the song traveled and in 1962 at a UNICEF concert in Germany, Marlene Dietrich, Academy Award-nominated German-born American actress, first performed the song in French, as "Qui peut dire ou vont les fleurs?" Shortly after she sang it in German.

Marlene sang to the troops, often a stone's throw away from enemy lines. She was a fervent anti-Nazi and was fearless and dedicated to serving the Allied troops during WWII. She saw a lot of death and injury with her own eyes; you can see the sadness of that experience in her, and the outrage that people keep making the same mistakes over and over. What a woman! We may never see the like again.

The song's impact in Germany just after WWII was shattering. Its universal message, "let there be peace in the world" did not get lost in its translation. To the contrary, the combination of the language, the setting, and the great lyrics has had a profound effect on people all around the world.

May it have the same effect today and bring renewed awareness to all that hear it. (from HERE)

0 comments to The Talent, Spirit and Music of Peter Seeger

Related Posts with Thumbnails