Econintersect: Pete Seeger was born in New York City 03 May 1919. He has been nominated for a 2014 Grammy in the category Best Spoken Word Album. The noted song writer and folk singer talks of his life experiences, interspersed with and accompanied by some of the music with which he is most associated in “The Storm King“. How many others have been nominated for a Grammy for work done in their 95th year?
Movie Trailer: Pete Seeger: The Power Of Song
Chapter excerpts can be heard at the website for the nominated album at Pete Seeger, The Storm King.
Seeger is best known as a song writer for three timeless folk ballads of the American experience:
- “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” (1955, with additional verses by Joe Hickerson in 1960)
- “If I Had a Hammer” (1949, with Lee Hayes)
- “Turn, Turn, Turn” (1959)
He is associated with the writing of more than 150 songs, but most of them are actually adaptations of traditional American songs and melodies with lyric modifications. See Pete Seeger Appreciation Page.
Pete Seeger is famously associated with the anthem of the Civil Rights movement. It was a song he didn’t write, although some have so attributed. See Wikipedia. He did create the arragement that became the most familiar and some have indicted he introduced the word “shall” in place of the original “will”. Here is Pete Seeger singing “We Shall Overcome” sometime in the latter half of the 20th century.
Seeger’s political problems may have focused around “If I Had A Hammer” co-written with Lee Hayes in 1949 and first recorded by The Weavers, a group for which both he and Hayes sang. The song was considered an anthem for the labor movement and attracted the attention of Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R, WI). The Weavers were blacklisted in the 1950s by the McCarthy led anti-communist investigations of the era. Pete Seeger chose to decline to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1955 on the grounds that it was an attempt to interfere with his first amendment rights. He was found guilty of contempt of Congress, a ruling overturned by a court decision in 1961.
The song was a big hit for Peter, Paul and Mary in the early 1960s. The following video is Pete singing at an unidentified college concert in 1956. For younger readers, Peter of the famous trio and Pete Seeger are two different people.
“Turn, Turn, Turn” is the most recent Seeger performance Econintersect has located. The following video shows him leading an audience singing this song in 2010 in Kingston, NY. The song is adapted from the Book of Ecclesiastes with an original final line from the singer.
The song was written in 1959 when Seeger was out of the public spotlight in the midst of his term on the subversive blacklist. It is a reflection on his patient tolerance of his banishment; it is a ballad of an exile. He first recorded it in 1962 after his exile had ended and that performance is presented in the following:
Probably the most well known Seeger song is “Where Have All The Flowers Gone“, arguably the most plaintive anti-war song ever created. Here is “Where Have All The Flowers Gone?” in 2008 with his grandson Tao Rodriguez accompanied by the audience at Wolftrap, Vienna, VA. Pete was 89 at the time.
The nominees for the 2014 Grammy for Best Spoken Word Album (from the Los Angeles Times):
- America Again: Re-becoming The Greatness We Never Weren’t – Stephen Colbert
- Carrie And Me – Carol Burnett
- Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls – David Sedaris
- Still Foolin’ ‘Em – Billy Crystal
- The Storm King – Pete Seeger
One more for those who want a little more Pete Seeger, here he is again with grandson Tao singing “Guantanamera“. Pete learned Spanish in his 50s after he first heard this song and has sung it in 35 countries since. Again from Wolftrap 2008:
The name The Storm King is both is both a tribute to the storm of life that Pete Seeger represents as an anti-war, social and environmental activist as well as an acknowledgement of the view that he and wife Toshi enjoyed since 1949 across the Hudson River from their Beacon, NY home. Storm King is the massive headland buttress rising steeply out of the western edge of Hudson south of Newburgh and Cornwall, NY and north of West Point.
Toshi Seeger married Pete in 1943. The daughter of a Japanese immigrant fleeing the fascist regime that took power in Japan in the early 20th century and an American mother, Toshi was an Emmy-award winning film maker and a leading force behind the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater and The Great Hudson River Revival (aka Clearwater Festival).
Toshi Seeger died 09 July 2013 at the age of 91 and after 70 years of marriage.