KINGSTON, R.I. — November 28, 2000 — Legendary folk musician Pete Seeger will present “Music of the Movements” on Tuesday, December 5 at 8 p.m. at the University of Rhode Island. His appearance concludes URI’s Honors Colloquium series “Nonviolence: Legacies of the Past, Bridges to the Future.” With his grandson Tao Rodriguez, Seeger will lead the audience in an evening of songs and stories. The event, free and open to the public, will be held in URI’s Fine Arts Recital Hall. Seating will be on first come, first served basis.
Musicians from the URI community, including Stephen Wood from Communications Studies, Stephen Myles from the Counseling Center, Paul deMesquita from Psychology, Bernard LaFayette from the Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies, the URI Traditional Jazz Band directed by Gary Buttery and the Honors Jazz Combo directed by Joe Parillo will also present songs of the civil rights and other movements. Popular Rhode Island singer Joyce Katzberg will also lend her voice.
Seeger is best known for songs he has written or helped to write including “Where Have All The Flowers Gone,” “Turn, Turn, Turn,” and “If I Had A Hammer.” Songs he adapted and introduced such as “Guantanamera” and “We Shall Overcome” are now known worldwide.
In his 60 years of singing in schools, camps, and colleges, for unions, peace rallies and civil rights marches, he has sung a wide range of old songs, getting him a reputation as a “folksinger,” a label he says he doesn’t like today. “People forget there’s as many different kinds of folk songs as there are different kinds of folks. Blues and gospel music are basically African-American folk songs. There’s 4,000 spoken languages in the world, and probably several times that many different kinds of folk songs.”
Seeger considers that his most important musical job has been introducing songs of people he knew in his youth, such as Huddie Ledbetter (“Goodnight Irene” and “Rock Island Line”), Woody Guthrie “This Land is Your Land”), and Malvina Reynolds (“Little Boxes”) to audiences around the world.
Seeger and his wife, Toshi, have lived 51 years on a mountainside 60 miles north of New York City, in a house they built themselves. They are known in the Hudson Valley for having helped start the Clearwater organization, a mainly volunteer group, which sails a 106-foot traditional sailboat on the Hudson River. It introduces tens of thousands of school children every year to problems of pollution. Today, much of the Hudson is safe to swim again, thanks partly to the Clearwater.
Grandson Tao Rodriguez grew up in Nicaragua. The pair will bring some Latin traditions to the evening such as “Solo Le Pido a Dios” (Argentina), “Monon” (Puerto Rico), and “De Colores” (originally Spain).
Seeger claims his voice is 90 percent gone. His grandson now sings the high part in “Wimoweh” (The Lion Sleeps Tonight) which Seeger introduced 52 years ago. The song was a top-40 hit when he sang it with the Weavers. “I’m mainly a song leader now, as I was for 3 1/2 years during World War II,” he says. “I’m happiest if I get a crowd singing so loud that they don’t even hear me.”
Many of Seeger’s recordings have been reissued as tapes and CD’s. The Grammy winner has also authored or co-authored books including “American Favorite Ballads,” “Carry It On” (union songs), and “Everybody Says Freedom” (civil rights songs). His work with Sing Out Magazine has acquainted Americans with a wide variety of songs. Seeger’s self-published “How To Play The Five String Banjo” is his long-time bestseller. “Pete Seeger’s Storytelling Book” was published this fall.
Seeger’s 1993 musical autobiography “Where Have All The Flowers Gone” contains 200 songs and melodies.
In 1994, Seeger received the N.E.A. National Medal of Arts and was a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors. This surprised many people who know that Seeger had been sentenced to a year in jail for not cooperating with the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1955. However, times have changed and Seeger is still singing, often for the grandchildren of those he sang for a half-century ago.