91 year old Pete Seeger recently told a Rolling Stone journalist that his new album, Tomorrow's Children, is "the most inspiring thing I've ever done." For someone who's career spans almost 70 years, that's saying a lot. Born in New York City in 1919 to a concert violinist and a musicologist, Pete Seeger assisted folk archivist Alan Lomax at the Library of Congress' Archive of American Folk Song as a young man. He met Woody Guthrie in 1940 and traveled and performed with him. Guthrie inspired the young musician to start writing his own songs.
After being drafted in 1942, Seeger was sent to serve in the Pacific by the U.S. Army. Originally trained as an airplane mechanic, he spent much of his time entertaining his fellow soldiers with music. After the war, he resumed his singing career and helped to found Sing Out! Magazine. Along with Lee Hays, Ronnie Gilbert, and Fred Hellerman, he formed the first commercially successful folksinging group, The Weavers, who's version of Leadbelly's classic "Goodnight, Irene" was a runaway hit. The group also put Woody Guthrie's iconic "This Land is Your Land" firmly into the cultural zeitgeist.
Seeger wrote many enduring classics that became hits for groups like Peter, Paul and Mary, the Kingston Trio, and later the Byrds: "If I Had A Hammer", "Where Have All The Flowers Gone", "The Bells of Rhymney", "Guantanamara", "We Shall Overcome", "Turn! Turn! Turn!" Meanwhile Seeger continued to work tirelessly for civil rights, social justice, the labor movement, and the environmental movement. In 2006 his songs were highlighted in a collection by Bruce Springsteen, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions. And this American hero took his rightful place at the January 2009 inauguration of President Barack Obama, joining Springsteen on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to sing "This Land is Your Land." It was an incredible moment for this man who had worked his entire life for equality and freedom, and who was made to testify in the 1950's before the House Un-American Activities Committee when The Weavers were blacklisted.
Tomorrow's Children has its roots back in 2007 when Seeger began to visit the classroom of Tery Udell's fourth grade class in Beacon, New York, where he's made his home for many years. Udell was teaching her students about the Hudson River and Seeger, who founded the Clearwater Environmental Organization to educate the public about the Hudson's pollution problems, was the perfect guest to talk to the kids and lead them in song. Each of the 19 songs on the album features Pete on banjo and 12-string guitar, accompanied by Udell's class (now known as "The Rivertown Kids"), other Beacon schoolchildren, and adult musicians. Along with Seeger's own songs, the children also contributed lyrics to a number of tunes. Pete's wife Toshi added a set of new verses to the now legendary anthem "Turn! Turn! Turn!" for the project. The CD was produced by Clearwater educator and singer Dan Einbender and musician David Bernz.
His incredible career and legendary songs have influenced everyone from Rufus Wainwright to Tom Morello. Seeger, married to Toshi for over five decades, lives on a hillside which overlooks the Hudson River they so valiantly work to save, in a cabin that they built many years ago. His voice, he admits, is pretty much gone, but his spirit and his work endure and continue to inspire a whole new generation of tomorrow's children.
Tomorrow's Children is available from Appleseed Recordings
SUBSCRIBE AND FOLLOW
Get top stories and blog posts emailed to me each day. Newsletters may offer personalized content or advertisements.Learn more