Pete Seeger: The Power of Song

Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger

“We sang about Alabama 1955, / But since 9-11, we wonder, will this world survive? / The world learned a lesson from Dr. King: / We can survive, we can, we will, and so we sing — // Don’t say it can’t be done, / The battle’s just begun. / Take it from Dr. King, / You too can learn to sing, / So drop the gun.” – Pete Seeger, “Take it from Dr. King”

Pete Seeger helped introduce America to its own musical heritage, devoting his life to using the power of sing as a force for social change. Standing strong for deeply-held beliefs, Seeger went from the top of the pop charts to the top of the blacklist and was banned from American commercial television for more than 17 years.

(In 1936, at the age of 17, Pete Seeger joined the Young Communist League (YCL). In 1942 he became a member of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) itself. He eventually “drifted away” – his word -from the Party in the late 1940s and 1950s. The McCarthy era caught up to him, essentially banning him from TV and radio for decades. In a 1995 interview, however, he insisted that “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.”)

As a member of The Almanac Singers and The Weavers, Seeger wrote or made hits of “Guantanamera,” “Where Have All The Flowers Gone,” “If I Had A Hammer,” “Turn Turn Turn,” “Wimoweh,” “We Shall Overcome” plus many others.

He invented the “Long Neck” or “Seeger” banjo (three frets longer than the standard), and his signature 12-string guitar had a triangular sound hole.He’s still around (b. 1919), and has seen career spike, fade, and re-spike. As someone who always speaks his mind, he has not always enjoyed welcoming arms from others. But Seeger always made his voice heard, and encouraged the people of the world to sing out along with him.

American Masters: Pete Seeger: The Power of Song
1/5/2011 8:00 pm WOSU TV
1/6/2011 1:00 am WOSU TV
1/6/2011 8:00 pm WOSU PLUS

My favorite Seeger anecdote:
An early booster of Bob Dylan, Seeger became upset over the loud, electric sound that Dylan brought into the 1965 Newport Folk Festival Festival during his performance of “Maggie’s Farm.”  When asked in 2001 about how he recalled his objections to the electric style, he said:

I couldn’t understand the words. I wanted to hear the words. It was a great song, “Maggie’s Farm”, and the sound was distorted. I ran over to the guy at the controls and shouted, “Fix the sound so you can hear the words.” He hollered back, “This is the way they want it.” I said “Damn it, if I had an axe, I’d cut the cable right now.” But I was at fault. I was the MC, and I could have said to the part of the crowd that booed Bob, “you didn’t boo Howlin’ Wolf yesterday. He was electric!” Though I still prefer to hear Dylan acoustic, some of his electric songs are absolutely great. Electric music is the vernacular of the second half of the twentieth century, to use my father’s old term.

In this video clip, Pete Seeger explains why he enjoys working with children.

In this clip, Pete Seeger performs a song called “Quite Early Morning.”

– Scott