January 29, 2014

singing . . . singing . . .

There is a fine reprint article online from the July/August 1996 article in the UU World . . . Singing for humanity: The Pete Seeger saga
Oddly for someone so rebellious, Seeger got both his vocation and his politics from his father. Both his parents were professional musicians, and at 17 Pete accompanied his father on a field trip to collect traditional songs for a project of the Library of Congress. In 1940, at age 21, Seeger went to Washington to work for Alan Lomax, the project’s head and catalyst. There he befriended the legendary ballad-maker Woody Guthrie. Soon the two had left on a cross-country jaunt.

When Seeger and Guthrie hit the East Coast again, Lomax handed them a stack of protest songs he’d collected from farmers, miners, and textile workers and suggested the two work them into a book. Seeger transcribed words and melodies, while Guthrie wrote introductions. The book, titled Hard Hitting Songs for Hard Hit People, wasn’t published until 1967, but it shaped both Seeger’s music and the gathering American folk song revival. “Songs,” he said, “can penetrate hard shells, proliferate in prisons. If we bring life to them, they will bring life to us and our children. . . . Songs can help us explore our past and our present, and even speculate about our future.” If all this makes him sound like a Unitarian Universalist, well, so he is, though as a young man he had little use for organized religion, his father having been what Seeger now calls “a member of the Marxist church.”

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