In praise of Pete Seeger

On Sunday Pete Seeger performed with Bruce Springsteen at the Obama pre-Inauguration concert (see previous post).  He sang  This Land is Your Land,  the “greatest song about America ever written” (Bruce Springsteen’s words) before 500,000 people and tens of millions more on television.

Pete Seeger helped introduce America to its own musical heritage, devoting his life to using the power of song as a force for social change. He went from the top of the pop charts (‘Goodnight Irene’) to the blacklist and was banned from American commercial television for more than 17 years. 90 on May 3, Seeger continues to invigorate and inspire the musicians who help tell his story- Bruce Springsteen, whose album We Shall Overcome – The Seeger Sessions was a tribute to the man and the music associated with him.

At Sunday’s concert Seeger sang the two ‘radical’ verses of Woody Guthrie’s  This Land Is Your Land that invariably get cut when the song is sung in public, or in American schools.

As I was walkin’ – I saw a sign there
And that sign said – no tresspassin’
But on the other side …. it didn’t say nothin!

Now that side was made for you and me!

In the squares of the city – In the shadow of the steeple
Near the relief office – I see my people
And some are grumblin’ and some are wonderin’
If this land’s still made for you and me.

Seeger worked tirelessly on behalf of civil rights movement, making his first trip south at the invitation of Dr. Martin Luther King, in 1956, and in 1965,  joined the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. One of the seminal political events in his life, and the one which solidified his intent to make actively combating racism a lifelong pursuit, was the 1949 Peekskill race riots. In this video, Seeger recounts his experiences:

American Masters: Pete Seeger: The Power of Song (PBS)

One thought on “In praise of Pete Seeger

  1. Thanks for the post. It’s nice to see the “ignored” verses from “This Land” included.

    Woody Guthrie’s music often had a radical (protest or political) twist to it. If you can locate a copy, there is an old recording, put out by (American) Folkways Records (I don’t know if it has made it to CD) of Woody singing a lot of his own songs. You might check Amazon — it’s worth the effort to locate it if you’re interested.



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