Pete Seeger essentially created the folk revival movement in the United States—carrying on the work of Woody Guthrie and helping to spawn the careers of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, among others—while also linking this movement to political protest and iconoclasm.
As a result of his anti-war crusading and open Communist leanings, Seeger was a central target of the infamous HUAC witch hunts, and was widely blacklisted and condemned. In the process, however, he ended up inventing the college circuit and becoming the cornerstone of the 1960s folk revolution.
Galvanized by the 1998 tribute album Where have all the flowers gone?, the late 1990s and 2000s saw a reawakening of interest in Seeger’s music and cultural legacy, which included Bruce Springsteen’s album-length We shall overcome: The Seeger sessions.
This according to “Voice of America” by Phil Sutcliffe (Mojo February 2007).
Today would have been Seeger’s 100th birthday! Below, his iconic 1968 broadcast of Waist deep in the Big Muddy; the antiwar song was censored by CBS when he taped it for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in 1967, but the following year the network caved to pressure from the show’s hosts and allowed it to be aired.
The world knows Pete Seeger as an activist and a performer of traditional and original songs; fewer know of his work as a filmmaker. With his wife Toshi, Seeger documented music and dance performances on hundreds of reels of film between 1955 and 1965.
Having started with a self-produced film of how to play the 5-string banjo, Toshi and Pete branched out into filming the musicians and dancers they came in contact with in their countrywide and worldwide tours. Their subjects include the final performance of Big Bill Broonzy as well as the Irish fiddler John Doherty, the sitār player Imrat Khan, Ghanaian fishermen singing rowing songs, and Indonesian court dancers. The Pete and Toshi Seeger Film Collection was acquired by the American Folklife Center in 2004.
This according to “The incompleat filmmakers: The little-known career of Pete and Toshi Seeger” by Todd Harvey and Stephen Winick (Folklife Center news XXVIII/28 [winter/spring 2006] pp. 3–8). Above, the Seegers in an interview at the Library of Congress in 2006; inset, at the 2009 Clearwater Festival.
You can watch the Seegers’ film of Ghanaian fishermen here.
- Lead Belly and the folklorists (bibliolore.org)
- Folkstreams (an online streaming archive that includes some of the Seegers’ films).