ABOUT “AT 89”:
GRAMMY Award winner for 2008 "Best Traditional Folk Album"!
It is not an overstatement to call Pete Seeger one of our greatest living Americans, let alone one of the most important musicians of our time. His life’s work – carrying music, social comment, and heartlifting entertainment around the globe – has made a difference, whether his songs are sung in kindergartens or on the political barricades, and his commitment to his message of inclusiveness and activism has been recognized by a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, the Kennedy Center Award, the Presidential Medal of the Arts, a Lifetime Legends medal from the Library of Congress, and even induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
On "At 89," Pete’s first CD since his “Pete and Friends” disc on the Grammy-nominated 2003 "Seeds: The Songs of Pete Seeger, Vol. 3" 2-CD set, the peaceful warrior for human dignity surveys the progress that’s been made during his nine-decade lifetime and what still needs to be done to create a society of equals and to assure continued world survival.
Lovingly sequenced by producer/musician David Bernz, At 89 seamlessly segues similarly themed songs into organic suites, using brief solo instrumentals and spoken introductions by Pete as links. After the comfortable opening amble of Pete’s “Nameless Banjo Riff,” Seeger acknowledges on “False From True,” above Perry Robinson’s sardonic clarinet, that he’s now of an age (“no longer young”) when it’s time to reassess what’s left to do – separating false from true, more important now than ever. He is appropriately joined on the next few songs of welcome and fellowship (“Now We Sit Us Down,” “Visions of Children,” “Wonderful Friends”) by the voices of his fellow Hudson River Valley, New York, musicians and friends, who are also heard singing and making music throughout the CD, adding to its sense of community. Among the contributing musicians are the members of Work o’ the Weavers, a quartet (which includes Bernz) devoted to the repertoire and spirit of Pete’s long gone but much-loved group; the Walkabout Clearwater Chorus; the After Hours Quartet; the Hudson River Sloop Singers; violinist Sara Milonovich, and other guests.
“The Water is Wide,” a soothing duet between recorder and 12-string guitar, both played by Pete, provides the transition to the next set of songs (“It’s a Long Haul,” “Throw Away That Shad Net,” “Song of the World’s Last Whale,” “If It Can’t Be Reduced,” “The First Settlers”), which address two of Pete’s leading concerns – ecology and peaceful coexistence. The tragic uselessness of war (“When I Was Most Beautiful,” sung by Sonya Cohen, Pete’s niece; “Bach at Treblinka”) is lightened by a version of The Weavers’ old favorite, “Tzena, Tzena, Tzena,” that adds a hopeful mingling of recently added Arabic lyrics to the existing verses in Hebrew and English. The last segment of the CD circles back to the dangers of blind obedience (a new rendition of the Vietnam, and now Iraq, War parable, “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy”), and the need for personal involvement necessary to save our planet from ourselves (“Or Else!” “Arrange and Re-arrange,” “If This World Survives”). There’s a particularly poignant moment on “Little Fat Baby,” one of the 26 tracks never previously recorded by Pete, when he confronts his own mortality: “Some day, we’ll be saying so long/Some day, it’ll be time for me to move on”).
But that day hasn’t yet arrived. Pete is still sowing the seeds of peace and justice, whether inspiring Bruce Springsteen to carry on his legacy of musical tradition and personal activism or getting a classroom of school kids to sing songs in other languages. Like Tom Joad or Joe Hill, when there are wrongs to be righted or victories, however small, to be celebrated in the war between good and evil, that’s where we’ll always find Pete Seeger: in the flesh – leading a singalong – or in our hearts.
ABOUT PETE SEEGER:
For nearly 70 years as a performer, Pete Seeger has embodied the ideals of folk music – communication, entertainment, social comment, historical continuity, inclusiveness. The songs he has written, and those he has discovered and shared, have helped preserve our cultural heritage, imprinting adults and children with the sounds, traditions and values of our global past and present. A fearless warrior for social justice and the environment, Pete’s political activism – from the Civil Rights movement and anti-McCarthyism to resistance to fascism and the wars in Vietnam and the Middle East – has become the template for subsequent generations of musicians and ordinary citizens with something to say about the world.
Born in 1919 to musicologist Dr. Charles Seeger and concert violinist Constance Edson Seeger, Pete, while in his teens, developed an interest in music and journalism, crafts he would intertwine throughout his career. A Harvard University dropout (he was in the same class as John F. Kennedy), Seeger met, traveled and performed with the great topical folksong writer Woody Guthrie in 1940, inspiring Pete to start writing his own songs. Dedicating himself to “the music of the people,” Seeger formed the politically oriented Almanac Singers in 1941 with Guthrie and other musicians before Seeger was drafted into the Army in 1942 and sent to the Pacific.
After the war, Seeger resumed his career as performer and song collector, helping to found the still-existent Sing Out! magazine. In 1948, Seeger formed The Weavers with Lee Hays, Ronnie Gilbert and Fred Hellerman, and within three years the group had sold four million records. It embedded Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” in American culture, and its version of Leadbelly’s “Goodnight, Irene” topped the charts for six months. Blacklisted during the McCarthy era, the group disbanded in 1953 (although they reunited from 1955 to 1963). Pete left The Weavers in 1958 but continued to record and perform throughout an unwritten ban from most TV and radio shows and many concert stages for the next 17 years. When the “folk boom” of the early 1960s exploded, performers such as the Kingston Trio, Peter, Paul and Mary and the Limelighters actually had hits with Seeger-written songs “If I Had a Hammer” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone.” As folk turned to rock in the mid-’60s, The Byrds brought Seeger to a young, electrified audience with their versions of his “Turn! Turn! Turn!” and “Bells of Rhymney.”
Meanwhile, Seeger continued to travel the campus and international circuit. From the civil rights marches in Selma, Alabama, and Washington, DC, with Dr. Martin Luther King to anti-war demonstrations around the country, Pete and his banjo have been at the forefront of many social justice causes here and abroad. He has written songs for and participated in the labor and environmental movements and founded the Clearwater organization to call attention to the pollution of New York’s Hudson River and other American waterways.
“Pete, or his music, has been there through almost every major social movement in the last 50 years,” says Jim Musselman, founder and president of Appleseed Recordings, the independent label that has helped keep Seeger’s music alive and fresh for new generations through a trilogy of CD celebrations that feature close to 100 recordings of songs Pete wrote or adapted as performed by a galaxy of contemporary musical stars and other politically outspoken public figures, from Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne and Steve Earle to actor/vocalist Tim Robbins and journalist Studs Terkel.
Springsteen’s 2006 "We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions" CD, subsequent tours, DVD and live album were originally sparked by a 1998 request from Appleseed for a Bruce rendition of a Seeger-related song. Bruce recorded “We Shall Overcome” for Appleseed’s first Seeger tribute, "Where Have All the Flowers Gone: The Songs of Pete Seeger" (1998). Almost a decade later, Seeger and Springsteen collaborated for the first time, recording several songs for the label’s "Sowing the Seeds – The 10th Anniversary" sampler and its fund-raising charity CD to benefit the homeless, "Give US Your Poor," their only recordings together. Pete’s new CD for Appleseed, "At 89," follows 2003’s Grammy nominated "Seeds: The Songs of Pete Seeger, Vol. 3" 2-CD set, which included a disc of new Seeger recordings. His last CD prior to "Seeds" in a discography stretching back more than a half century was the 1996 Grammy Award-winning "Pete."
In addition to Seeger’s careers as musician and activist, he’s an author as well. Pete has written close to three dozen songbooks, instructional instrumental handbooks, children’s stories and other delightful works of fact and fiction. Pete has finally updated his 1993 autobiography, "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" (Sing Out! Publications); the new edition is scheduled for publication in September 2008. David Dunaway’s authoritative Seeger biography, "How Can I Keep from Singing," reappeared in updated form earlier this year.
Seeger and his wife of 60 years, Toshi Ohta Seeger, still live on a wooded hillside overlooking their beloved Hudson River in New York State, where they long ago built a cabin using instructions from library books.