News / Arts & Entertainment

    Remembering Pete Seeger

    FILE - Musician Pete Seeger (C) performs during a concert celebrating his 90th birthday in New York, May 3, 2009.
    FILE - Musician Pete Seeger (C) performs during a concert celebrating his 90th birthday in New York, May 3, 2009.
    Katherine Cole
    Pete Seeger, the legendary folk singer-songwriter who fought for social change and played a major role in the American folk revival, died Monday at the age of 94.

    For many, Seeger will be remembered as America’s most-famous, and infamous, folk singer.

    Banjo player Tony Trischka first heard Seeger’s banjo-playing and singing as child and later became his friend. When he was 14 years old, Trischka wrote Seeger a fan letter. He didn’t have an address, so he just addressed it to Pete Seeger, Beacon New York and hoped that it would reach his hero.

    “I wrote something to the effect ‘Dear Pete, I think you’re the greatest banjo player who ever lived.’ Two weeks later, I received a postcard back from Pete Seeger saying ‘Dear Tony, music’s not like a horse race, there’s no such thing as best, but I’m glad you like my music.’ And he signed it Pete Seeger, as you would, and he drew a little banjo. And that just became a relic, this iconic thing that helped inspire me,” he said.

    Remembering Pete Seeger
    Remembering Pete Seegeri
    || 0:00:00
    ...    
     
    X

    Born in New York City in 1919, Seeger grew up believing that song has the power to change the world.  Seeger dropped out of Harvard College in 1938, and began working with music archivist Alan Lomax, assisting him on song-collecting trips through the American south.  In the early-1940s, he formed The Almanac Singers, a highly-politicized singing group known for recording union songs and anti-war anthems.

    While the start of World War II meant the end of The Almanac Singers, a stint in the Army didn’t mean the end of Seeger’s singing career.  In 1948, he formed The Weavers, who soon became one of America’s favorite singing groups.  Poet Carl Sandberg wrote, “The Weavers are out of the grassroots of America.  When I hear America singing, The Weavers are there.”
        
    One of the most-famous songs by The Weavers, “Tzena, Tzena, Tzena,”, makes an appearance on “Pete Seeger at 89,” albeit in a slightly different version.  The 21st Century version includes not only an English translation of the Israeli song, but also a translation in Arabic.  And as Seeger describes it, all the parts harmonize with each other.  

    FILE - Folk singer Pete Seeger, left, performing at the Rally for Détente at Carnegie Hall in New York, May 13, 1975.FILE - Folk singer Pete Seeger, left, performing at the Rally for Détente at Carnegie Hall in New York, May 13, 1975.
    x
    FILE - Folk singer Pete Seeger, left, performing at the Rally for Détente at Carnegie Hall in New York, May 13, 1975.
    FILE - Folk singer Pete Seeger, left, performing at the Rally for Détente at Carnegie Hall in New York, May 13, 1975.
    ​As popular as it was, “Tzena Tzena Tzena” and his other hit songs couldn’t rescue Seeger from the “Red Scare” of the early 1950s.  Three members of The Weavers were named as members of the Communist Party.  The group was soon ostracized.  Despite selling millions of records, The Weavers couldn’t get hired for concerts, and were dropped by their record label. 

    In 1955, Seeger was called to Washington to testify before the U.S. House of Representatives Un-American Activities Committee, where he was questioned about his political associations. He told the committee, “I am not going to answer any questions as to my associations, my philosophical or my religious beliefs, or how I voted in any election or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked.”

    Because of that, on July 26, 1956, the House of Representatives voted 373 to 9 to cite Pete Seeger, and seven others, for contempt. Five years later, Seeger’s case finally came to trial.  He was found guilty and sentenced to a year in prison, resulting in worldwide protests.  Although the verdict was overturned, that didn’t mean a return to business as usual for Seeger. He didn’t return to U.S. radio and television until the late 1960s.

    FILE - Activist musician Pete Seeger, 92, left, marches with nearly a thousand demonstrators sympathetic to the Occupy Wall Street protests for a brief acoustic concert in Columbus Circle in New York, Oct. 21, 2011.FILE - Activist musician Pete Seeger, 92, left, marches with nearly a thousand demonstrators sympathetic to the Occupy Wall Street protests for a brief acoustic concert in Columbus Circle in New York, Oct. 21, 2011.
    x
    FILE - Activist musician Pete Seeger, 92, left, marches with nearly a thousand demonstrators sympathetic to the Occupy Wall Street protests for a brief acoustic concert in Columbus Circle in New York, Oct. 21, 2011.
    FILE - Activist musician Pete Seeger, 92, left, marches with nearly a thousand demonstrators sympathetic to the Occupy Wall Street protests for a brief acoustic concert in Columbus Circle in New York, Oct. 21, 2011.
    Which makes it all the more remarkable that in 1994, Seeger returned to Washington to receive the Presidential Medal of the Arts, the nation’s highest artistic honor.  Two years later he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And in 2009, he performed at the Lincoln Memorial in a concert to celebrate the presidency of Barack Obama.

    Andrew Revkin writes the “Dot-Earth” blog for the New York Times, and is also a professional musician who played with Seeger many times over the past 20 years. He says that while there are still many people who think of Seeger in only political terms, his songs will live on.

    FILE - U.S. singers Pete Seeger (L) and Bruce Springsteen (R) performing during the “We are One” Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial on Jan. 18, 2009, in Washington, D.C.FILE - U.S. singers Pete Seeger (L) and Bruce Springsteen (R) performing during the “We are One” Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial on Jan. 18, 2009, in Washington, D.C.
    x
    FILE - U.S. singers Pete Seeger (L) and Bruce Springsteen (R) performing during the “We are One” Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial on Jan. 18, 2009, in Washington, D.C.
    FILE - U.S. singers Pete Seeger (L) and Bruce Springsteen (R) performing during the “We are One” Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial on Jan. 18, 2009, in Washington, D.C.
    “I think he’ll always be there in the sense that so many musicians have been influenced by him, even if the next generations coming forward may not know his name," he said. "Some of the best known renditions of his songs were by the Byrds. And more recently, Bruce Springsteen did an album “The Seeger Sessions,” they weren’t Pete Seeger songs, but they were songs Bruce learned through Pete. You know the great old hymn and folk song ‘Will the Circle Be Unbroken?’ The circle created through his music is unbroken.”

    When he died, Seeger had a list of honors longer than the neck on his famed banjo; not bad for a man who says he never planned to make music his career.

    “I did not want to be a professional musician.  I liked to sing, but I thought the music business was full of hypocrisy," he said. "I did, though, go sing in the schools and in summer camps.  And then some of the kids grew up and went to college.  And I, during the ‘frightened ‘50s’ when the blacklist was in the popular music business, I just went from college to college to college to college to college to college to college.  The most important job I ever did. I could have kicked the bucket [died] in 1960.  My job was done!  After me, a whole bunch of young people came along:  Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, and a whole lot of others.  And now, it’s out of control.”

    It was Pete Seeger who changed the words of an old spiritual from “We Will Overcome” to “We Shall Overcome”, and then sang it to American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., who went on to make it an anthem of the civil right movement in the 1960s.  That optimism endured in his music.

    You May Like

    Video Rubio Looks to Surge in New Hampshire

    Republican presidential candidate has moved into second place in several recent surveys and appears to be gaining ground on longtime frontrunner Donald Trump

    UN Calls for Global Ban on Female Genital Mutilation

    Recent UNICEF report finds at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries

    UN Pilots New Peace Approach in CAR

    Approach launched in northern town of Kaga Bandoro, where former combatants of mainly Muslim Seleka armed group and Christian and animist anti-Balaka movement are being paid to do community work

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.

    New in Music Alley

    Beyond Category: Arturo Sandovali
    || 0:00:00
    ...  
     
    X
    February 02, 2016 3:53 PM
    Cuban-born trumpeter Arturo Sandoval is one of the most exciting musicians in jazz. The multi-Grammy winner takes the Blues Alley stage to perform, and sits down with Beyond Category host Eric Felten to talk about his life in music.

    Cuban-born trumpeter Arturo Sandoval is one of the most exciting musicians in jazz. The multi-Grammy winner takes the Blues Alley stage to perform, and sits down with Beyond Category host Eric Felten to talk about his life in music.