12 Things About Pete Seeger

(ref: Pete Seeger Appreciation Page, How can I keep from singing by Sarah Van Gelder in Yes! Magazine, and other various sources)

  1. Seeger went to Harvard but left after two years just before final exams in 1938. He made his way to New York, where he eventually landed a job with the Archives of American Folk Music.
     
  2. On dropping out of the communist movement: “I was never enthusiastic about being somebody who was supposed to be silent about being a member of something.”
     
  3. In 1955 before the House Un-American Activities Committee, Seeger used the First Amendment rather than the Fifth as his reason for refusing to discuss his politics and associations. “Using the Fifth Amendment,” Seeger explained, “is in effect saying, ‘you have no right to ask me this question’; but using the First Amendment means, ‘you have no right to ask any American such questions.’
     
  4. Libby Frank, in 1952 insisted on singing “my brothers and my sisters” instead of “all of my brothers” in the Seeger/Lee song “If I had a hammer”. Lee resisted the change at first. “It doesn’t ripple off the tongue as well. How about ‘all of my siblings’?” Lee later acquiesced. (ref: www.mysongbook.de)
     
  5. Pete’s famous banjo reads: “This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender.” (ref: Yes! Magazine)
     
  6. Testimony to his strong faith in his country’s ultimate and necessary commitment to freedom of expression, Seeger wrote the words to “Bring them Home” which includes the line “…one of the great things about America is that we can speak our minds…” during a time he was being regularly blacklisted and his words and songs were heavily censored.
     
  7. Seeger popularized “We shall overcome” when he published his version of the gospel song in People’s Songs in 1947. It later became one of the most memorable anthems of the civil rights movement in the 60’s being sung at rallies, vigils, and protests.
     
  8. On traveling with Woodie Guthrie, “He taught me how to hitchhike and how to ride freight trains. You don’t get on a freight when it’s in the station—the railroad bulls will kick you off. You go about 100 yards or maybe 200 yards outside to where the train is just picking up speed and you can trot alongside it. You throw your banjo in an empty car, and then you throw yourself in. And you then might go 200 or 300 miles before you stop.”
     
  9. “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy”, an allegorical anti-war song written in 1967 during the war in Vietnam was published by Columbia records but deemed too controversial and never sent to retail stores. It was The Smothers Brothers that made it possible for the world to know about the song when they invited Pete Seeger to be a guest on their television show. The song was edited out before air time by TV executives but The Smothers Brothers got the last word when they went to the press saying, “CBS censors our best jokes, they censored Seeger’s best song. It ain’t fair.” (ref: www.peteseeger.net)
     
  10. In October, 1994, President Clinton awarded Seeger the National Medal of the Arts praising him as “an inconvenient artist who dared to sing things as he saw them.”
     
  11. A Pete Seeger quote, “Learning how to do something in your hometown is the most important thing. … If there’s a world here in a hundred years, it’s going to be saved by tens of millions of little things.”
     
  12. Pete Seeger’s birthday is May 3rd. He turns 90 in 2009.
     

Read At 89 Pete Seeger’s Still A Rebel! at Reach and Teach.

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10 Interesting Facts About This Land is Your Land

(ref: Freedom Song by Mary Turck, woodyguthrie.org, wikipedia)

  1. In 1940, Woody Guthrie wrote This Land is Your Land because he was tired of the radio overplaying Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America” which he thought was unrealistic and complacent. [wikipedia]
     
  2. The tune for the song was taken from a gospel hymn “When the world’s on fire” recorded by the Carter Family in 1930.
     
  3. A verse that is normally left out when performed…
    Was a high wall there that tried to stop me
    A sign was painted said: Private Property
    But on the back side it didn’t say nothing
    That side was made for you and me.

     
  4. Another verse that is normally not sung…
    One bright sunny morning in the shadow of the steeple
    By the Relief Office I saw my people
    As they stood hungry, I stood there wondering
    If this land was made for you and me?

     
  5. Various artists who have performed the song include: Bob Dylan, The Kingston Trio, the Limeliters, Pete Seeger, Peter Paul and Mary, and Bruce Springsteen
     
  6. The song was most recently sung by Bruce Springsteen and Pete Seeger (with the usually omitted verses intact) during President Obama’s Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial
     
  7. The soundtrack to the movie Hard travelin’ includes an original recording of Woody Guthrie singing the song with his son Arlo Guthrie digitally mixed in to sing the omitted verses as taught to him by his father.
     
  8. Guthrie’s original “copyright” on his song reads:
    This song is Copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright #154085, for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin’ it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don’t give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that’s all we wanted to do.
     
  9. Woody Guthrie was born on July 14, 1912, in Okemah, Oklahoma. Guthrie was disabled by and died of Huntington’s disease which ended his life in 1967.
     
  10. A Woody Guthrie quote [woodyguthrie.org],
    “A folk song is what’s wrong and how to fix it or it could be
    who’s hungry and where their mouth is or
    who’s out of work and where the job is or
    who’s broke and where the money is or
    who’s carrying a gun and where the peace is.”

     

Freedom Song by Mary Turck is available at Reach and Teach