Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Pete Seeger and American Folk music

Another giant Pete Seeger joins American poet Amiri Baraka in passing. Pete Seeger passed away earlier today at the age of 94. Like Amiri Baraka, Seeger remained a life long political activist who consistently protested with his banjo, robust voice and shared songs with younger Americans and generations against militarism, reoccurring foreign wars carried out by American government in Vietnam, Iraq to various Latin American, African and Asian countries. Seeger is regarded as one of the longest outspoken and enduring folk musician. Although folk music or traditional music is seen as artisty it has played a large role in protests across the United States for many years. He was so outspoken in his protest music that he was called to testify against the House Committee of Un American Activities in 1955. It was a small hitch in his lifelong career.

Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen sing "This Land is Your Land"

Communism as a Boogeyman: 

McCarthyism, censoring music and dissidents

The Un American Activities Committee was code for a McCarthy Era anti Communist house committee that monitored Americans across the country who were regarded as potential communist threats to national security. If it sounds familiar do not be surprised. Folk singers, political activists, dissidents, students, human rights leaders, outspoken foreign policy critics, authors and even filmmakers were all equally accused between 1950s-1970s of supporting communism even if their critiques were solely aimed at the government. The red scare that emerged in the United States in the aftermath of Bolshevik Revolution that put Lenin in power in Russia was used to terrify generation of American children and adults to see communism as a political and social evil. Even if communism was misunderstood or misinterpreted.

Folk Music and Protest

 American folk music morphed from delta blues, Cajun music and regional Southern and Appalachian music to national scene in 1940s to 1960s in the form of  protest music. Pete Seeger was originally part of the musical group the Weavers before becoming a sole artist. He wrote several immortal folk and pop songs such as "Turn, Turn, Turn" and "If I had a Hammer" and popularized the now famous songs, "We Shall Overcome" and "This Land is Your Land" a song written by Seeger's friend and folk legend Woody Guthrie. Both Seeger and Guthrie influenced another folk muscian Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and many other musicians since.

Negro Spirituals Medley

Not just gospel music and hymnals negro spirituals tell the history, culture and perseverance of African Americans in the country as a long standing form of protest. The spirituals serve as a testament and protest against an exclusionary social political system that denied their humanity and rights. Some famous negro spirituals include amazing grace, wade in the water, motherless child, nobody knows the trouble I've seen

Where have all the Flowers Gone? Written and performed by Seeger  

The Kingston Trio's version is well know but Seeger's version still stands strong
This song became somewhat of a national anthem for younger American's frustration with the Vietnam war and refusal to serve in the army or support the violence against Vietnamese citizens and Americans

Pete Seeger: Bring 'Em Home

An Anti-War song gently demanding the return of all American troops from Vietnam on the Johnny Cash Show in 1970

Folk legends Peter, Paul and Mary singing "If I had a Hammer" at 1963 March on Washington

Woody Guthrie "This Land is your Land"

Bob Dylan and Joan Baez at March on Washington '63 singing, "When my Ship comes in," "A Pawn in there game" and "Keep your eyes on the Prize"


Joan Baez "All My Trials Lord" 

Another social protest song popular during the 1960s

Joe Hill-"The Preacher and the Slave" Covered by Utah Phillips

Sweet Honey and the Rock: "Ella's Song"

Ella's song by the multitalented folk soul group Sweet Honey and the Rok dedicated to the pioneering Civil Rights leader Ella Baker who influenced and trained Civil rights and human rights activists and leaders as member of the NAACP, SNCC, Souther Christian Leadership Conference, etc

American Folk Music documentary ep1: Birth of a Nation

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