***Complimentary CD of 10 of Pete Seeger's greatest hits included***
Folk music has long played a vital role in supporting reform movements in the United States. Radical activists, seeking to counter a variety of abuses in mid-to-late 20th century America, often used music to express their hopes, aims, and goals. In "To Everything There Is a Season": Pete Seeger and the Power of Song, Allan Winkler describes how folk singer Pete Seeger applied his musical talents to improve conditions for less fortunate people everywhere. This book uses Seeger's long life and wonderful songs to reflect on the important role folk music played in various protest movements and to answer such fundamental questions as: What was the source of Seeger's appeal? How did he capture the attention and affection of people around the world? And why is song such a powerful medium?
For over half of a century, Pete Seeger's life and music cut across the major issues of the day. A tireless supporter of union organization in the 1930s and 1940s, he joined the Communist Party, performing his songs with banjo and guitar accompaniment to promote worker solidarity. He sang out against American involvement in World War II in the early 1940s, only to change his tune after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He enlisted in the Army and, still singing, served overseas in the South Pacific. In the 1950s, he found himself under attack during the Red Scare for his radical past. He narrowly escaped a long jail term for refusing to cooperate with the House Committee on Un-American Activities, when his contempt conviction was thrown out on a technicality. In the 1960s, he became the minstrel of the civil rights movement, focusing its energy with songs that inspired protestors and challenged the nation's patterns of racial discrimination. Toward the end of the decade, he turned his musical talents to resisting the war in Vietnam, and again drew fire from those who attacked his dissent as treason. Finally, in the 1970s, he lent his voice to the growing environmental movement by leading the drive to clean up the Hudson River, which flowed almost literally through his backyard in New York State. His life reflected the turbulence of his times as his songs sounded the spirit of the issues that he felt mattered most.
A sample of Seeger's music accompanies this book. Songs include "If I Had a Hammer," with its call to confront injustice; "Where Have all the Flowers Gone?" and its lyrical appeal to stop the cycle of war; and "We Shall Overcome," the standard hymn of the struggle for freedom. Richly researched and crisply written, Allan Winkler provides a gripping account of the power of Pete Seeger's songs in promoting a better world for us all.
These two biographies celebrate the season of Seeger as he turns 90 on May 3, 2009. Because his life has been lived mostly in the public eye and there are relatively few archival materials, the authors repeat many of the same stories in almost exactly the same words. Both books chronicle Seeger's life from his childhood artistic ambitions to his growing love of music, early years as a folk musician with the Weavers, and passionate commitments to the Civil Rights, anti-Vietnam War, and environmental movements.
An accomplished storyteller, New Yorker writer Wilkinson (The Happiest Man in the World) draws on interviews with Seeger and others to present a seamless chronicle of his life and music, vivifying his passion for humanity, love of the environment, and deep curiosity about music. Although Wilkinson passes lightly over the origins of some of Seeger's songs, he shows how Seeger discovers that music can stem the tide of hatred, ignorance, and prejudice and be a force for reconciliation. Wilkinson includes two appendixes featuring reflections by Seeger's father on the purpose of music and a transcript of Seeger's testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1955.
Winkler (Distinguished Professor of History, Miami Univ. in Ohio; Home Front U.S.A.: America During World War II) covers the same ground in a more workmanlike and pedantic fashion. Using the titles of Seeger's songs as framing devices, he peers into each chapter of Seeger's life at modest length, providing some details about how or why a song came to be written. In an afterword, Winkler reveals his adoration of Seeger by telling stories of sitting down with Seeger to play hissongs. All libraries will want a copy of Wilkinson's lively portrait; only large public and academic libraries should consider Winkler's treatment.