Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Our December Book: The Protest Singer by Alec Wilkinson

The Protest Singer: An Intimate Portrait of Pete Seeger (Vintage)This month we read The Protest Singer: An Intimate Portrait of Pete Seeger by Alec Wilkinson.  Wilkinson writes regularly for the New Yorker and you can check out some of his other pieces, including his most recent about rhythm and blues singer Bettye LaVette, here.  If you'd like to learn a little about his background, you can listen to this interview.

As for Pete Seeger, here's a vintage (1984) Fresh Air interview. And then just last August, NPR's Talk of the Nation had Pete on to discuss his latest Grammy-nominated album, Tomorrow's Children made with children from his home near Beacon, New York and featuring new songs on environmental themes. After a bit of a slow start the interview really kicks in when Pete can't resist breaking into song and gives a nod to Rights Readers favorite Wangari Maathai ("There should be a song about her.") The Huffington Post also has an interview,
Tomorrow's Children
MR: And might you have any advice to new artists?
PS: Sing in front of as many different kinds of people as you can. Old folks, middle age folks, kids, infants, and sing for people you disagree with too. Learning how to communicate with people we disagree with is something the whole world has to learn.

The New York Times checks in on Pete's current Sunday routine ‘Letters to Answer, and Logs to Split’ while this Atlantic reflection contains some great nuggets,
"In 1910," he said, "John Phillip Sousa wrote, 'What will happen to the American voice, now that the phonograph has been invented?' And it's true—parents don't sing lullabies to their children anymore, they'll put them in front of the TV to fall asleep. Men used to sing together in bars all around the country—now there's a TV or loud music there instead."

Pete Seeger: The Power of SongFrom NPR, Pete Seeger and friends close out the 2009 Newport Folk Festival including Pete's song "Walking Down Death Row", a song I hadn't heard before. 

Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour"We've previously mentioned the PBS documentary The Power of Song (view the trailer here) and the Smithsonian-Folkways podcasts. Take note also that the PBS site has bonus interviews and a handy timeline, while the Folkways Seeger profile also comes with a slideshow and video and audio features.  And please do check out the Beacon Sloop Club and the Clearwater. Have you found yourself humming along while reading? Ready to burst into song? Look to Sing Out! for inspiration.

The episode concerning the censorship of Pete's appearance on the Smothers Brothers is described in fascinating detail by David Bianculli in Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour".  He also tells the story in this Fresh Air interview (transcript). Here is the performance of the American War Songs Medley from the show and the censored clip of "Waist Deep In The Big Muddy".  I like this clip of "Wimoweh" and "Where have all the Flowers Gone?" better though, because no Pete Seeger performance is complete without the audience reaction (and who doesn't love Tommy Smothers?).

The episode of Rainbow Quest featuring Roscoe Holcomb mentioned in the book is excerpted here.  There are just too many good Seeger YouTube clips to share in one post so we promise to think of more excuses to post them in the future. By popular request though, here is Pete and Friends performance of Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land" at the Obama inauguration concert at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Check out this video from the kids at Clearwater who have added some new verses to "This Land is Your Land."

What's your favorite Pete Seeger song?
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