Gypsy Rose was sad to hear of the passing of the great folk singer & protest icon Pete Seeger at the end of 2013. Pete was born into a musical family in the early 1900s and that exposure no doubt influenced his path in life. His father Charles Seeger spoke out against World War I causing him to give up an important teaching position shortly before Pete was born. So you can see that pacifism was present in Pete’s early life in addition to the wonders of music. Pete’s parents, aunts & uncles were a diverse group of educated & culturally aware individuals. It’s no wonder that Pete & his half brothers & half sisters ALL became folk singers! They KNEW that music was such a powerful tool to get their message into the minds of the people. The folk tradition involves sharing & passing the stories down from generation to generation. From town to city. From farm to factory. From living room to concert hall. This is FOLK MUSIC! We’re not talking polite applause and then enforced silence with hands folded while the performer just sings to you. Pete vigorously encouraged his audiences to SING ALONG with him! He demanded it! Pete also published a world famous banjo instruction book (How to Play the Five-String Banjo) that brought the basics of the instrument to the beginner in a style that only he could teach. He was not some “big star in a glass house.” He believed that the song was everyone’s to share. He was most definitely one of the people. And he not only spoke the language of the people, he SANG the language of ALL people.
At times, Pete’s actions threatened the success of his own career as a musician. But he stood by his beliefs. The MESSAGE was more important than success or fear of upsetting the status quo. Pete kept some beliefs throughout his life. But Pete was strongly opposed to biographers, interviewers and fellow musicians portraying him to be a “saint”. He knew that he himself, like all humans, had made mistakes. Later in life, he expressed regret for his earlier views on communism in Stalinist Russia. He was not afraid to apologize & this is something from which we can all learn.
Pete sang alongside the other folk greats including Woody Guthrie & Leadbelly in support of labor & civil rights, pacifism & racial equality. Pete paraphrased his friend Woody’s strong message that appeared on his guitar (“This machine kills fascists”) by putting the words “This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender” atop the head of his banjo. That instantly recognizable banjo traveled the world & helped Pete spread the word to millions for decades & decades. Woody & Leadbelly’s generation moved on to the generation of Bob Dylan and the “Folk Revival” of the 1960s. At Pete’s 90th birthday bash held at Madison Square Garden in 2009 he found himself surrounded by the likes of Dave Matthews, Bruce Springsteen , Warren Haynes and dozens of other performers of varying ages & styles.
Pete made his home in the lovely Hudson Valley of New York for many years. He helped to form the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater in the mid 1960s. This fine organization helps to clean up the Hudson River & surrounding areas by educating the public & raising awareness to the environmental concerns that affect this beautiful part of the U.S. They sailed their namesake vessel (the sloop Clearwater) up and down the mighty Hudson to bring their message directly to the people. Even politicians that may have differed in their views from Pete (such as former NY Governor George Pataki) expressed their support & approval of Clearwater’s endeavors. Each year the Clearwater Festival (or Great Hudson River Revival) still raises funds for the organization with a HUGE all-star 2 day musical event. Pete may not be performing on the festival’s stage anymore in the physical sense, but “Clearwater” audiences will no doubt feel his presence for years to come.
Pete Seeger & Gypsy Rose share many core values & beliefs:
The importance of raising awareness of human rights & equality.
Teaching respect for the environment.
And of course…. The POWER of the time honored tradition of song!
In the spirit of Pete and the “folk process” we’d like to share the message & pass it on by inviting you to visit these fine websites:
Written by Gypsy Roses’ Brian Duckett