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Pete Seeger

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Pete Seeger, 1944

Peter Seeger (born May 3, 1919 in New York City), almost always known as Pete Seeger, is a folk singer, political activist and major contributor to folk and protest music in 1950s and 1960s. His father Charles Seeger was a musicologist and an early investigator of non-Western music. His siblings Mike Seeger and Peggy Seeger also had notable musical careers. Mike Seeger went on to form the New Lost City Ramblers. Peter went to Avon Old Farms in Connecticut and then to Harvard University. In 1943 he married Toshi-Aline Ohta, whom he credits with being the support that made the rest of his life possible.

Contents

Career

He first met many important musicians such as Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly during the late 1930s and early 1940s after dropping out of Harvard, where he was studying sociology.

He was a founding member of the folk groups The Almanac Singers and The Weavers. The Weavers had major hits in the early 1950s, before being blacklisted in the McCarthy Era.

Seeger started a solo career in 1958 (see 1958 in music), and is known for songs such as "If I Had a Hammer" (co-written with Lee Hays), "Turn, Turn, Turn" (adapted from Ecclesiastes), and "We Shall Overcome" (based on a spiritual).

In the 1960s, Seeger wrote the first version of his now-classic How to Play the Five-String Banjo, a book that many banjo players credit with starting them off on the instrument.

Seeger is involved in the Clearwater group, which he helped found in 1966. This organization has worked since then to highlight pollution in the Hudson River and worked to clean it. As part of that effort, the sloop Clearwater was launched in 1969 and regularly sails the river as a classroom, stage and laboratory.

As a member of the Old Left, Seeger is known for his communist political beliefs, formed before Nikita Khrushchev exposed the crimes of Stalin. Political opponents called him by pejorative names such as "Stalin's Songbird". His supporters called him "America's Tuning Fork" and "A Living Saint". (Zollo 2005) An example of Seeger's pro-Soviet and pro-Stalin attitude can be seen during the period of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the short-lived alliance between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. His anti-war record Songs for John Doe, released in 1941, where he called President Franklin D. Roosevelt a warmonger who worked for J.P. Morgan, expressed his displeasure about FDR's increasingly confrontational attitude with Nazi Germany. Like most members of the CPUSA, Seeger was opposed to any action against Hitler from the time of the signing of the non-aggression pact until it was broken by Operation Barbarossa on June 22, 1941. After the invasion of the Soviet Union, Seeger returned to his earlier stance as a strong proponent of military action against Germany; he was drafted into the Army, where he served honorably in the Pacific. Seeger left the Communist Party in 1950, five years before Nikita Khrushchev's Secret speech revealed Stalin's crimes and led to a mass exodus from the Party. He became an anti-Stalinist but retained his belief in Socialism.

Seeger achieved some notoriety in 1967 and 1968 for his song "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy", about a captain—a "big fool"—who drowned while leading a platoon on maneuvers in Louisiana during World War II. Seeger performed the song on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour after some arguments with CBS about whether the song's lyrics were objectionable. Although the on-air version left out the last two verses, which were the most explicitly political, the song remained clearly an allegory about the U.S. under the leadership of Lyndon Johnson having gotten in over its head in the Vietnam War.

Another slight against Lyndon Johnson can be heard in Seeger's seemingly juvenile song, "Beans in My Ears" from his album Dangerous Songs!? in which he accuses "Mrs. Jay's little son Alby" (Alby Jay is meant to sound like LBJ) of having beans in his ears, or of not listening to the people.

Quotes

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  • "I like to say I'm more conservative than Goldwater. He just wanted to turn the clock back to when there was no income tax. I want to turn the clock back to when people lived in small villages and took care of each other."
  • "My father, Charles Seeger, got me into the Communist movement. He backed out around '38. I drifted out in the '50s. I apologize [in his recent book] for following the party line so slavishly, for not seeing that Stalin was a supremely cruel misleader."
  • "I still call myself a communist, because communism is no more what Russia made of it than Christianity is what the churches make of it. But if by some freak of history communism had caught up with this country, I would have been one of the first people thrown in jail."
  • "Arlo, folk songs are serious."
  • "Any darn fool can make something complex; it takes a genius to make something simple."

References

External links

it:Pete Seeger

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