“Down By The Riverside” – Pete Seeger, Sonny Terry, and Brownie McGhee

Pete Seeger was born on May 3, 1919, French Hospital, Midtown Manhattan.  His Yankee-Protestant family, which Seeger called “enormously Christian, in the Puritan, Calvinist New England tradition”, traced its genealogy back over 200 years.  His parents, Charles and Constance, were very musical and were heavily involved in the early establishment of the study of music in the US.  However, the story is much more interesting than just this!  For example, when baby Pete was eighteen months old, they set out with him and his two older brothers in a homemade trailer, on a quixotic mission to bring musical uplift to the working people in the American South.  What an adventure to take in the name of music, and a perfect setting for the humble beginnings of a pioneer.

Pete Seeger’s Wikipedia page is among the longest personal pages I have encountered, and with good reason.  Seeger’s music spanned generations, covering WWII, The Spanish Civil War, The US Civil Rights movement (see “We Shall Overcome”), the Vietnam War, and almost every other subject imaginable.  He also was a force in bringing Bob Dylan into success, although he later despised Dylan’s electric sound…

Seeger concisely and intelligently brought his lyrics into the political world, and certainly impacted the path of music and it’s role in social movements in the US.  When Folk became the voice of a generation and the medium of a movement, Seeger led the way and was, in many ways, the backbone of much of what became the American Folk revival.  we owe him much, and his recent passing is a good reason to celebrate everything he gave us.  A pioneer with a pioneering view of the world:

How could Hitler have been stopped? Litvinov, the Soviet delegate to the League of Nations in ’36, proposed a worldwide quarantine but got no takers. For more on those times check out pacifist Dave Dellinger’s book, From Yale to Jail … At any rate, today I’ll apologize for a number of things, such as thinking that Stalin was merely a “hard driver” and not a “supremely cruel misleader.” I guess anyone who calls himself a Christian should be prepared to apologize for the Inquisition, the burning of heretics by Protestants, the slaughter of Jews and Muslims by Crusaders. White people in the U.S.A. ought to apologize for stealing land from Native Americans and enslaving blacks. Europeans could apologize for worldwide conquests, Mongolians for Genghis Khan. And supporters of Roosevelt could apologize for his support of Somoza, of Southern White Democrats, of Franco Spain, for putting Japanese Americans in concentration camps. Who should my granddaughter Moraya apologize to? She’s part African, part European, part Chinese, part Japanese, part Native American. Let’s look ahead.


More about Pete Seeger here.

If you’d like to watch a great documentary about the American Folk movement, here’s Part 1 of a great BBC film called Folk America: The Birth of a Nation.