Happy birthday, Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger birthday

Pete Seeger is 90 today and BBC radio 4 marked his anniversary with an excellent programme in which Vincent Dowd celebrated the life and work of the folk singer and activist. Drawing on BBC archives and new interviews, he explored Seeger’s views on a range of issues and his hopes for the future under the leadership of Barack Obama, at whose inauguration he performed. The show featured an unplugged version of This Land is Your Land from Seeger himself, but Seeger maintained that his greatest joy as a performer is to lead others in sing-alongs: the only way music can effect change is through participation.

At his 90th birthday concert at Madison Square Garden tonight he must have been ecstatic since for nearly four and a half hours he and 51 other artists transformed the massive arena into an intimate campfire sing-along, where toddlers, senior citizens and everyone in between belted “Michael Row the Boat Ashore,” “This Land is Your Land,” “Turn Turn Turn” and many others songs Seeger wrote or popularized over his seven-decade career. “There is no such thing as a wrong note,” Seeger said after leading a group rendition of “Amazing Grace” midway through the show, “just as long as you’re singing along.”The concert was a benefit for Seeger’s Clearwater environmental group that works to clean the Hudson River. A long evening of musical collaborations included Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, Emmylou Harris, Kris Kristofferson, Taj Mahal, Richie Havens, Arlo Guthrie and others playing in many permutations. According to the Rolling Stone blog, highlights included Taj Mahal doing “Waist Deep In The Big Muddy,” The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and Pete’s grandson Tao Rodriguez-Seeger doing Seeger’s anti-war tune “Bring ‘Em Home,” and Joan Baez and others singing “Jacob’s Ladder”.

“Pete is a walking, singing archive of American history,” Springsteen said during a long, moving speech. “He had the audacity and courage to sing in the voice of the American people. At 90, he remains a stealth dagger into the country’s illusions about itself.”

For the finale, every performer of the night crammed onto the stage for “This Land Is Your Land.” “I give you the words and you sing along,” Seeger told the crowd. As he did at Barack Obama’s inauguration, he included the often skipped verses about the relief office and the private property sign. After leaving the stage to “This Little Light Of Mine,” everybody returned for “Goodnight Irene” – which Seeger’s group the Weavers took to Number One in 1950.

Happy 90th Birthday Pete Seeger from Smithsonian

Pete Seeger/Tao Seeger/Preservation Hall Jazz Band, 24 April

On Friday, April 24, 2009 New Orleans’ Preservation Hall Jazz Band was joined by legendary American singer/songwriter Pete Seeger, his grandson Tao, and their band for a very special recording session. Recorded a week before Pete’s 90th birthday celebration, this video shows a man who is still moved by the power of song.

“In addition to being America’s best-loved folk singer and an untiring environmentalist, Pete Seeger is a national treasure. He has been at the forefront of the labor movement, the struggle for Civil Rights, the peace and anti-war movements, and the fight for a clean world. He has been a beacon of hope for millions of people all over the world…” (from the Pete Seeger appreciation page – http://www.peteseeger.net)

The Water is Wide

John Gorka sings ‘The Water is Wide’ for a FolkAlley.com Extra in honour of Pete Seeger’s 90th Birthday.

The water is wide, I cannot cross o’er,
But Neither have I the wings to fly.
Give me a boat, that will carry two,
And both shall row, my love and I.

Where love is planted, oh there it grows,
It grows and blossoms like a rose.
It has a sweet and pleasant smell
No flower can it excel.

A ship there is and she sails the sea,
She’s loaded deep as deep can be,
But not so deep as the love I’m in
I know not if I sink or swim.

I leaned my back against a young oak,
Thinking he were a trusty tree,
But first he bended and then he broke,
Thus did my love prove false to me.

O love is handsome and love is fine
And love’s a jewel when it is new
But leave it alone, it grows so cold
And fades away like morning dew.

Arlo Guthrie & Pete Seeger: If I Had A Hammer, August 1993

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