When I saw the news of Pete Seeger’s death earlier this week, I tried to think back to the first time I heard a Pete Seeger song. It’s hard to pin down. Typically what I heard were covers by other artists: “If I Had a Hammer” and “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream” sung by Peter, Paul and Mary; “”Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There is A Season)” sung by the Byrds, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” sung by The Kingston Trio — you get the picture. I think “Little Boxes” may have been the first song I heard Pete sing, and you might know that one was actually written by someone else. To be honest, I thought for years that it was a Bob Dylan song. Apparently I’m not the only one who wasn’t sure who wrote what. I was long grown before I understood who Pete Seeger was and had some insight into the depth of his contribution to American folk music.
Pete Seeger was a controversial figure whose music was an expression of his political beliefs. He was nominated multiple times for a Nobel Peace Prize (at last count one petition had reached 3,000 signatures), but he did not receive one. He appeared to be embarrassed by the attention.
Clearwater’s Great Hudson River Revival, an annual fundraiser started by Pete and his wife Toshi in the late 1960s as the Hudson Valley Folk Picnic, is still in full swing today, supporting the work of a nonprofit organization formed to educate people about Hudson River environmental issues.
David Dunaway’s biography of Pete was aptly named: How Can I Keep From Singing? As long as there were issues to be confronted, Pete was there with his voice and his banjo.
Democracy Now’s story includes interviews with Pete from 2004 and from a few months ago. NPR has made available their 2005 “Sing Out!” concert, featuring Pete Seeger and others at the Keswick Theatre in Philadelphia.Read More Add a Comment
If you follow national music news, you don’t need me to tell you that world-renowned bluegrass banjo artist Earl Scruggs passed away on Wednesday at the age of 88. If you’re a bluegrass or country music fan, you don’t need me to describe for you his style of banjo picking and the resulting sound. But I thought I would pull together some of the articles I read while looking for more about the life of this performer I used to watch occasionally on my parents’ country music television picks.
So here they are: The Tennessean, with its story (my personal favorite) of the man who brought people of all music styles together by simply playing music right along with them; The New York Times; the Los Angeles Times; celebrity tributes on CBS; and NPR’s The Record, including the accompanying radio clip.
Rest in peace, Earl. Rest in peace.
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In recent days we have seen the loss of several folk music personages, each known for a different type of role. Bess Lomax Hawes, folklorist and musician, passed away on November 27th. Following in the footsteps of her father John Lomax and making giant footsteps of her own, she spent her life working to preserve folk music in different forms. Jack Cooke, of the Clinch Mountain Boys, died December 1st. In Ireland, the last of the Clancy Brothers, Liam Clancy, died December 4th.Read More Add a Comment
We wrote last week that Argentine folk singer Mercedes Sosa had been taken into intensive care. She passed away today, leaving a legacy of Latin American music including more than 70 albums and of a life devoted to using her music to bring attention to everyday social issues. She had been nominated for multiple Latin Grammy awards (ceremony to take place next month). Vicente Panetta of the Associated Press has her story in USA Today.Read More Add a Comment
Mary Travers, of Peter, Paul and Mary, died today in hospital after battling cancer for several years. Read the full AP story at any of these sites: MSNBC, Yahoo or The New York Times. As someone who sang “Blowin’ in the Wind” along with my friend’s record as a pre-teen, walked out on a high school talent pageant runway to the music of “Leaving on a Jet Plane” and cried to the sound of “Day is Done” just a few years ago when a member of my family was overseas in a militarized zone, I feel that a piece of my life is gone. And yet all those wonderful songs will be with us for a long time. Mary will be remembered as part of the music that shaped many of our lives.Read More Add a Comment
Larry Knechtel, whose keyboard arrangement of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” for Simon and Garfunkel won him a Grammy award, passed away last Thursday. I confess a special attachment to that particular piece of music, and I suspect I am not the only one who feels that way. As described in the AP story from KOMO News, Larry was an accomplished musician who provided guitar and keyboard accompaniment for many well-known performers.Read More Add a Comment
Folk musician Mike Seeger, a founding member of the New Lost City Ramblers, passed away on Friday, August 7 at the age of 75. Mike was half-brother to Pete Seeger and brother to Peggy Seeger. He was an essential part of the folk music movement of the mid-twentieth century and spent a good part of his life collecting folk music and making it known to a wider audience. He will be greatly missed.Read More Add a Comment