The Plowboy Pete Seeger Interview

This Plowboy Pete Seeger interview with the singer/composer/author/social activist/environmentalist showcases his mission to sing to save our earth.


| November/December 1982



078-016-01

A Plowboy interview with singer/composer/author/social activist/environmentalist Pete Seeger.


PHOTO: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF

Learn more about the singer/composer/author/social activist/environmentalist in this Plowboy Pete Seeger interview. (See the oil-drum oven diagrams in the image gallery.)

For an individual who dislikes labels, singer/composer/author/social activist/environmentalist Pete Seeger has accumulated a goodly share during his 63 years. ("Some labels I'll accept . . . " he admits. "I'm a musician, I'm married, and I'm a U.S. citizen.") Born in New York City in 1919, Seeger has spent most of his life trying to get people to work together toward the common goal of making this world a better place to live. And he's chosen to communicate his message through music.   

Today, Pete Seeger is—as one magazine profile aptly phrased it—the last active folk singer from the group of "originals" (people such as Woodie Guthrie, Jimmie Rogers, Lee Hays, and Leadbelly) who, during the first half of this century, reintroduced Americans to their rich heritage of native folk music and, in doing so, paved the way for the folk singers of the 60's. Seeger has, over the years, composed—or collaborated with others on—some of this country's best-known songs . . . including such titles as "Turn, Turn, Turn"; "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?", "If I Had a Hammer", "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine"; and "We Shall Overcome". As a soloist, as a member of the Almanac Singers, and later as one of the Weavers, the now slightly balding banjo-picker has recorded more than 80 LP's.   

Despite Pete's noteworthy musical success, however, he and Toshi—his wife of 39 years—continue to follow the simple lifestyle to which they're accustomed. They live in the small, wood-heated log cabin they built by themselves (for $900!) back in 1949, and Pete still uses his music—generally playing for free at benefit concerts—to organize people to fight for the causes he believes in . . . just as he's done for over 40 years.  

Whether his voice was being heard in support of the labor movement in the 40's, for civil rights since the 50's, or on behalf of environmental causes since the 60's, Seeger's actions have always mirrored his concerns. He is quick to note, in fact, that he became a full-time folk singer almost inadvertently, with music simply meshing with—rather than dictating—his lifestyle. Although his parents were both professional musicians, Pete intended to work in journalism, but soon discovered after dropping out of Harvard, in 1938, to knock on the doors of the publishing world—that there were no jobs to be had, so he turned to his musical talents in an effort to earn his way.   

Then, in 1940, after spending part of the previous year working for folklorist Alan Lomax in the Library of Congress, Seeger met Woodie Guthrie . . . and the two singers headed west to learn about their country's people and music. It was during this searching period that Pete decided to use his music to help people organize in efforts to change their lives for the better. In response to this inner voice—with the U.S. not yet free of the Great Depression—Seeger and Guthrie formed, in 1941, the Almanac Singers . . . and used their music to encourage workers to form unions. (They also joined the American Communist Party . . . which the songster then believed was working to help folks secure jobs.)  





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