WEST BRATTLEBORO—Folk singer, activist, and the musical conscience of our nation, Pete Seeger, would have been 100 this year.
All Souls Church, 29 South St., will host a singalong concert on Sunday, May 12, at 7 p.m., to celebrate Seeger’s music and his life-long efforts on behalf of peace, justice, and the earth.
The concert will feature well-known performers with deep connections to Seeger, including Sally Rogers, Emma’s Revolution, Peter Siegel, Annie Patterson, and Peter Blood.
Those who attend the tribute concert will have the chance to sing together using a new songbook containing 50 classic songs Pete Seeger led throughout his life. Publishers Peter Blood and Annie Patterson of Rise Up Singing fame designed this new book for the Seeger centennial.
Seeger passionately believed that singing together not only built community but could help heal our planet. Toward the end of his life, he liked to say that if there’s still a world a hundred years from now, it would be in large part because of people singing with each other.
The performers at the concert are both terrific song leaders and activists who use their music to promote change, and who worked closely with Pete Seeger during his life.
For example, Sally Rogers is a beloved singer, songwriter, and music educator. Her Circle of the Sun album was awarded as NAIRD “Best Album of the Year.” She won a Parent’s Choice Award for her What Can One Little Person Do? CD. She is a founder and leader of the Children’s Music Network.
She accompanies herself on guitar, banjo, and mountain dulcimer. The themes of her songs range from teaching children about peace to empowerment, Habitat for Humanity, and care for the earth. Her latest CD, We Are Welcomed, with Claudia Schmidt, celebrates the empowerment of women.
A radical chord
Peter Siegel of Brattleboro says he “grew up on Pete Seeger’s lap.” He is a founding member of the Celtic/ americana/world beat ensemble The Gaslight Tinkers.
Siegel contributes a radical chord to American roots music. His songwriting influences range from Seeger to Phil Ochs, old-timey, blues, Afrobeat, and Caribbean music. He has Grammy award-winning mandolin tracks on the Pete Seeger’s Best Children’s Album of 2010. He leads stringed and vocal workshops for singing and songwriting with kids and adults alike, in the area and around the world.
Emma’s Revolution is the award-winning activist duo of Pat Humphries and Sandy O, whose songs have been sung for the Dalai Lama, praised by Pete Seeger, and covered by Holly Near. Emma’s Revolution delivers the energy and strength of their convictions in an uprising of truth and hope for these tumultuous times.
Pat’s nearly 30-year friendship with Pete spanned performances at NYC’s Symphony Space to helping gather sap from the maple trees on his property to swapping stories and sharing holidays with Pete and his wife Toshi. She was singing to Pete in his hospital room as he passed away in 2014.
The duo’s latest CD, Revolution Now, includes “Sing People Sing,” the tribute Pat began writing that night that captures Pete’s unique ability to empower an audience with harmony and hope. That CD and more is available at emmasrevolution.com.
Annie Patterson and Peter Blood are the co-creators of the best-selling songbook Rise Up Singing, which Studs Terkel called a “play-work-fight-freedom hymnal.” They have led singalong concerts across North America and abroad building “hope and change through song.”
The audience at the Pete 100th Concert will be singing out of their newest songbook If I Had a Hammer, which contains 50 of the best songs that Seeger led audiences in at his own concerts.
Patterson is well-loved for her stunning vocals, old-timey banjo playing and her harmonies with the band Girls From Mars and has most recently finished a Midwest tour with Charlie King. Blood worked closely with Seeger for over a year as the editor of his autobiography, Where Have All the Flowers Gone: A Singalong Memoir.
Pete Seeger was the master of group singing. Audiences all over the world came to watch him perform and sing along with him, often in languages they had never heard before.
He used his singing as a way of reaching into the hearts of the people in his audiences and getting them to look at themselves, at people different from them, and at the world in fresh ways. Many lives were changed just by listening to Pete Seeger’s music or singing along with him in settings large and small.
Around 1940, Seeger dropped out of Harvard as a freshman to hit the road as an itinerant musician and activist. Woody Guthrie (seven years his senior) took him under his wing. They hitchhiked and rode the rails, singing with union members on the picket line, migrants, and hobos across the West.
Seeger went on to mentor or inspire countless other musicians including Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul and Mary, Dar Williams, Bruce Springsteen, and Billy Bragg.
Springsteen released an album of Seeger’s songs in 2006 and then took the album on the road on his “Seeger Sessions” Tour. A star-studded group of musicians took part in his 2009 90th birthday concert at Carnegie Hall including Emmylou Harris, Dave Matthews, John Mellencamp, Springsteen, and Baez.
Back in 1950, Seeger went briefly to the top of the hit parade for 13 weeks as a member of the Weavers. The quartet’s single “Goodnight Irene” sold an astonishing (for the day) 2 million copies.
After a brief moment of commercial success, the Weavers were blacklisted for their left-wing connections. Seeger was called to testify about those connections before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1955.
He refused to discuss any of his friends’ or fellow musicians’ political beliefs or activities and was sentenced to a year in prison for contempt of Congress. For several years his family fully expected him to be imprisoned, but his conviction was eventually thrown out on appeal.
Pete Seeger spent his whole life using music to help create a better world. He sang on picket lines in the 1940s and 1950s. He was the first person to sing We Shall Overcome to Martin Luther King, Jr. at thev Highlander Center in 1957.
In the summer of 1964, Seeger took part in the Mississippi Freedom Summer. At King’s invitation, Seeger and his wife Toshi took part in the historic 1965 Selma to Montgomery March. He was a regular fixture at mass rallies against the Vietnam War in the 1960s. CBS censored his performance of a satire about Lyndon Johnson on national TV in 1968.
Pete and Toshi Seeger co-founded the Clearwater organization in 1966, sailing a sloop (often filled with school children) up and down the Hudson River to gather support for cleaning up the river.
At a tribute concert in 2014, Harry Belafonte said “For all the world’s turmoil, Pete never blinked on the question as to whether or not our humanity had enough love in its power to triumph over our addiction to our inhumanity.”