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The Pete Seeger Reader

Perhaps the most widely recognized figure in folk music and one of the most controversial figures in American political activism, Pete Seeger now belongs among the icons of 20th-century American culture. The road to his current status as activist and respected voice of folk music was long and often rough, starting from the moment he dropped out of Harvard in the late 1930s and picked up a banjo. Editors Cohen and Capaldi trace Seeger's long and storied career, focusing on his work as not only a singer, but as an educator, songwriter, organizer, publisher, and journalist. The son of musicians, Seeger began his musical career before World War II and became well-known in the 1950s as a member of the commercially popular Weavers, only to be blacklisted by much of the mainstream media in the 1960s because of his progressive politics, and to return to the music scene in subsequent decades as a tireless educator and activist.
The Pete Seeger Reader gathers writings from numerous sources, mixing Seeger's own work with that of the many people who have, over the years, written about him. Many of the pieces have never before been republished, and cover his entire career. A figure of amazing productivity, influence, and longevity, Seeger is author of a life that has been both cast in heroic terms and vilified. The selections in this book draw from a full range of these perspectives and will inform as they entertain, bringing into focus the life and contributions of one of the most influential figures of the twentieth century.
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Table of Contents

Introduction ; A. Background ; 1. Gene Marine, "Guerrilla Minstrel" (1972) ; 2. "Pete Seeger: 2002" (2005) ; B. The Early Years ; 3. Lawrence Emery, "Interesting Summer" (1939); Pete Seeger, "Pete And His Banjo Meet Some Fine Mountain Folks," (1940) ; 4. Pete Seeger, "Banjo Picker in Kentucky" and "Back Where I Come From" (1941) ; 5. George Lewis, "America is in Their Songs: Pete Bowers and Al [sic] Hays collect U.S. Folk Ballads" (1941) ; 6. The Almanac Singers [Pete Seeger] to Son House (1942); E.A., "The 'Almanacs' Part, But Keep on Singing" (1943) ; 7. Pete Seeger, "Report From The Marianas" (1945) ; 8. Woody Guthrie, "People's Songs and Its People" (1990) ; 9. Pete Seeger, "People's Songs Workshop" (1946); Pete Seeger, "People's Songs and Singers" (1946); "Report to members" (1946); Pete Seeger, "Report to members" (1946) ; 10. Pete Seeger, Letter to People's Songs supporters (1948); Pete Seeger, Letter to People's Songs supporters (1948); Pete Seeger, Minutes of the "Meeting of National Board of Directors of People's Songs" (1948) ; C. The 1950s ; 11. Robert W. Dana, "Village Vanguard Has Real Hoe-Down" (1950); Jay Russell, "How the Weavers Break Night Club Ice" (1950); "Out of the Corner" (1950); "Weavers' Yarn" (1951); Frederick Woltman, "Melody Weaves On, Along Party Line," (1951) ; 12. Alan Lomax notes Darling Corey (1950); Pete Seeger to Ray M. Lawless (1953) ; 13. Irwin Silber, "Pete Seeger" (1954) ; 14. Monty Mons, "Pete Seeger: An Appreciation" (1955); Summary of government charges, 1955-1957 (1957) ; 15. Pete Seeger, "A letter of greetings to the editors and readers of Sing Along" (1957) ; 16. "Blind Raferty" (aka Dave Van Ronk) (1957); Emerson L. Batdorff, "It's Not Nose in Folk Song, Artist Proves," (1958) ; 17. Ronald Radosh, Commies (2001) ; D. The 1960s ; 18. Moses Asch, "Foreword" (1961) ; 19. "Statement In Court By Pete Seeger Before Judge Thomas F. Murphy, Federal Court, New York" (1961); David Marcus, "Seeger Cites Battle Of Politics, Arts," (1961) ; 20. Eric Winter, "Pete Seeger sails in to a hero's welcome" (1961); Pete Seeger, "When you're singing just be yourself" (1961) ; 21. Alan Hjerpe, "Pete Seeger In L.A. Concert" (1962) ; 22. Pete Seeger, "The Country Washboard Band" (1963); Pete Seeger, "Introduction: Woody Guthrie Folk Songs" (1963); Pete Seeger, "Introduction: The Bells of Rhymney" (1964) ; 23. Pete Seeger letter to Sis Cunningham and Gordon Friesen (1963); Pete Seeger, "What's In A Word?" (1964); "Pete Seeger Arrives In Prague To Begin Concert Tour In Eastern Europe" (1964); Ruth Daniloff, "Pete Seeger In Moscow" (1964) ; 24. Jon Pankake, "Pete's Children: The American Folksong Revival, Pro and Con" (1964) ; 25. [Pete Seeger], "Pete Seeger" (1965); Ralph J. Gleason, "A Folk Singer Who Meets You Half-Way," (1965) ; 26. Paul Cowan, "Non-Confrontation In Beacon, New York," (1965) ; 27. "Big and Muddy" (1967) ; 28. Pete Seeger, "To Save a River," Guideposts (1970) ; E. The 1970s and After ; 29. Tom Smucker, "If Every Concert Were A Benefit, Pete Seeger Would Be Frank Sinatra" (1976); Joe Klein, "Pete Seeger's steelyard benefit," (1977) ; 30. Marc Fisher, "America's Best-Loved Commie" (1994) ; 31. Scott Alarik, "No more awards! Pete Seeger" (1996) ; 32. Greg Kot, "The Boss pulls off celebrating Seeger" (2006) ; 33. Dick Flacks, "Pete Seeger's Project," (2009) ; AFTERWORD ; Bibliography

About the Author

Ronald D. Cohen taught at Indiana University Northwest for 34 years. He has published numerous books on the history of folk music and radical politics in the United States. Since his retirement in 2004 he has continued to research and write about folk music in the United States and Great Britain. James Capaldi has written several articles for Folk Review of England, Folk Scene of Los Angeles, and Sing Out! magazine. He is the host of the Pete Seeger Appreciation Page at, an encyclopedic source of information about Pete Seeger.


This book has the important pieces about (and by) Pete Seeger. It follows him from a gangly youngster learning banjo licks on an old-timer's porch to his international fame inspiring social movements via music, from civil and human rights to our all-too-slow environmental awakening. Today's songwriters, turning to music to express their spirit and social awareness, all owe him a debt; we all do. * David Dunaway, co-author of Sing Out!: An Oral History of Americas Folk Music Revivals. * Just as there can never be too many songs from Pete Seeger, there can never be too many books about him - and there are offerings in this volume that I have never found elsewhere, new insights into this extraordinary man, my beloved brother. * Peggy Seeger * Although a wide range of prose styles is represented, encompassing terse depositions from seasoned Red-hunters and the self-consciously folksy styles of Woody Guthrie and Seeger himself, the prevailing tone is one of unmitigated admiration. * Lou Glandfield, The Times Literary Supplement *

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