Monday, May 4, 2009

Pete Seeger Turns 90!

Wow, how time flies! Yesterday, American folk music icon Pete Seeger celebrated his 90th birthday. Pete has been a constant in our family's musical life. I remember listening to him singing that Malvina Reynolds classic about suburban conformity, Little Boxes, when I was still in grade school. "Little Boxes" acquired two Spanish versions -- "Casitas" by Spanish songwriter Adolfo Celdrán and "Las Casitas del Barrio Alto" by the martyred Chilean singer Victor Jara.

Anyway, the grand birthday celebration at Madison Square Garden in New York featured America's best known singers and songs Pete made famous. Among the performances:
Pete himself took the stage and demonstrated his vocal and cardiovascular strength by leading the audience in what has to be one of the slowest renditions of "Amazing Grace" on record. Pete himself called it "slow", so I am not making this up or being critical. I wish I could sustain notes like that and I'm a whole lot younger!

Pete's music followed through the Civil Rights movement, opposition to the Vietnam War and later the wars in the Gulf and Iraq, peace, antinuclear, environmental and labor struggles -- Pete's voice and banjo have been there, giving us hope and cheering us on. Along with the late Woody Guthrie and other folk singers and supporters, Pete founded People's Songs, Inc, which later became Sing Out! in order to promote folk music, especially of the political variety.

In addition to the Sing Out! Web site, other good places to find out more about Pete Seeger's life and works are:

There are hundreds of videos I could pick but I want to highlight an aspect of Pete's career that most of us don't know as much about. It took place before I was born. Like many American communists, Pete was a staunch supporter of the Republican cause during the Spanish Civil War and in 1943, he got together with Tom Glazer and Bess and Baldwin Hawes, and recorded an album called "Songs of the Lincoln Battalion" to honor the Abraham Lincoln Brigade -- the American volunteers who went over to fight against Franco. So here is Pete singing "Viva la Quince Brigada" in Barcelona in 1993:

Photos: Pete Seeger at 90; Pete Seeger, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and others at the Highlander Research and Education Center in Tennessee where civil rights activists were trained.

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