Pete Seeger has embodied the ideals of folk music for more than fifty years. The songs he has written, and those he has discovered and made his own, 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, Pete's political activism - from the Civil Rights movement and anti-McCarthyism to resistance to fascism and the war in Vietnam - have become the template for subsequent generations of musicians with something to say about the world. While his frequently unpopular stances perhaps cost him a greater (and more superficial) popularity through the repercussions of media and performance blacklisting for many years, Pete's commitment to world peace, the environment, racial equality, workers' rights and other vital causes have earned him a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, a Harvard Arts Medal, the Kennedy Center Award, the Presidential Medal of the Arts, and even membership in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
"If I Had a Song" is the second volume of Pete Seeger's original (or adapted) compositions that were recorded, with rare exception, exclusively for Appleseed by many of his fellow musicians. The first volume, the 2-CD set "Where Have All the Flowers Gone,", released in 1998, contained new recordings by Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne & Bonnie Raitt, Roger McGuinn, Nanci Griffith, Judy Collins, Ani DiFranco, actor-director Tim Robbins and many other representatives from the last half-decade of folk music. The final release in this series, the GRAMMY-nominated Pete Seeger & Friends' "Seeds: The Songs of Pete Seeger, Vol. 3" was issued as a 2-CD set in late 2003 and features a disc of recent Pete recordings and a second disc of exclusive Seeger covers by Janis Ian, Natalie Merchant, Holly Near, Ronnie Gilbert, Tom Paxton, Peggy Seeger, Last Forever, Pat Humphries, and many others.
The sixteen selections on "If I Had a Song" extend the engagingly diverse guest list and wide range of song topics presented on the first volume. A few artists reappear with new contributions (Jackson Browne, this time teamed with Joan Baez for a gorgeous version of "Guantanamera"; Billy Bragg with Eliza Carthy; Kim & Reggie Harris and Magpie), but there are plenty of additional and varied voices represented (as well as Pete's own, on five selections). Traditional "folkies" and protest singers (Arlo Guthrie, John McCutcheon, Larry Long), singer-songwriters (Eric Andersen, Dave Carter & Tracy Grammer, Dar Williams & Toshi Reagon, John Wesley Harding, Kate & Anna McGarrigle), alt.country stars (Steve Earle), pop-rockers (Moxy Früvous), and bluesmen (Corey Harris) all pay their respects to the 84-year-old Pete with imaginative arrangements and song choices. There are songs here that were never previously recorded, and many others that have yet to be reissued on any of Pete's CDs, only appearing once on long-vanished Seeger LPs. One of the two collaborations between Arlo Guthrie and Pete on "If I Had a Song," "66 Highway Blues," is the first recording of one of the rare co-writing efforts by Seeger and Arlo's father, Woody Guthrie.
Virtually all of the artists invited to participate in Appleseed's three-volume tribute to Pete's songs enthusiastically accepted. Their contributions were recorded in studios across the United States, in Canada, England, Nicaragua, Norway and elsewhere, mirroring Pete's worldwide impact.
For more than 60 of his 84 years, the iconic folksinger, songwriter, instrumentalist, activist and humanitarian Pete Seeger has been the musical voice of the world's conscience. While cultures still collide, while inequality still flourishes, while the earth, air and waterways fill with pollution, the iconic songwriter, musician and political activist just can't keep from singing out in protest. He knows it is his duty and his guiding principle: "Participation! It's what all my work has been about." His commitment to world peace, the environment, racial equality, workers' rights and other vital causes has been recognized by a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, the Presidential Medal of the Arts, and even induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
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 periodically), but Seeger continued to record and perform, despite being informally banned 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.
Seeger and his wife of 60 years, Toshi Ohta Seeger, live in a log cabin in New York State that they built using instructions from library books. Pete's ego-free spirit of questing intelligence, thoughtful reaction, and inclusive, inspiring performance has influenced people around the world to become involved in changing the societies around them.