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Remembering Pete Seeger In Chicago

"Pete Seeger, the singer, folk-song collector and songwriter who spearheaded an American folk revival and spent a long career championing folk music as both a vital heritage and a catalyst for social change, died Monday," the New York Times reports. "He was 94 and lived in Beacon, N.Y."

Studs Terkel once famously described Seeger as "the boy with that touch of hope in the midst of bleakness" and helped him early in his career.

"[H]e first met Pete Seeger in July 1941, when the Almanac Singers (Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Millard Lampell, Lee Hayes) were on a cross-country trip," according to The Pete Seeger Reader.

"The four stayed in Terkel's apartment on 52nd Street. Terkel quickly identified with Seeger's left-wing politics as well as his musical style and versatility, and he became his champion until his own death almost seventy years later. Often a guest on Terkel's radio show . . . Terkel was instrumental in Folkways Records issuing the 1956 album Studs Terkel's Weekly Almanac on Folk Music Blues on WFMT with Big Bill Broonzy and Pete Seeger."


How Terkel described that first meeting:

"That night when I first encountered the four wandering minstrels was a cold Chicago beauty. At 2 in the morning, my wife heard the doorbell ring. I was away rehearsing the first play in which I had ever appeared. It was Waiting for Lefty, of course. There, at the door, were the four of them. The first was a bantam--freckled, red-haired and elfin. He handed my wife a note saying: 'These are good fellas. Put them up for the night.' Putting them up was a rough assignment, even for a Depression-era social worker, what with the only spare bunk being a Murphy bed that sprang from the wall. Freckles announced himself as Woody Guthrie. The second was an Ozark mountain man named Lee Hayes. The third was a writer, Millard Lampell. The fourth, somewhat diffident, more in the background, was a slim-jim of 20 or so, fretting around with his banjo. He was Pete Seeger."


"Folk singer Pete Seeger will appear in concert at 8:15 p.m. tomorrow in the Kenwood-Ellis Community church, 4608 Greenwood Av.," the Tribune reported in 1956. "The concert is sponsored by the Kenwood-Ellis Community center's parents group. Proceeds will go to the center's nursery school."


At Mandel Hall at the University of Chicago, 1957.


"Teens Are Taking to Folk Music: Its Serious Effort to Learn Old Tunes," the Tribune reported in 1962, name-checking Seeger.

"They study Saturday afternoons at the Old Town School of Folk Music, an unpretentious institution in the heart of the city's Mexican district."

That was the same year, by the way, that Seeger's contempt of Congress conviction for refusing to say whether he ever was a Communist was thrown out.


A year later, the Tribune revisited its trend story - again name-checking Seeger - with "Rock 'n Roll Out: Teens' Tastes in Music Turn to Folk Songs."

Seeger was also on the bill that year that resulted in the Trib's "Hootenanny B rings 12,067 to Ravinia."


In 1964, Seeger visited an ailing Mahalia Jackson at the Little Company of Mary Hospital in Evergreen Park.


In 1966, an Orchestra Hall show was favorably reviewed by the Trib in "Pete Seeger Charms With Songs, Satire."


In 1976, Seeger & Co. were introduced by Terkel for this broadcast from Chicago's public television studio.


"The man who made folk music into a popular idiom in this country, Pete Seeger, sailed up to Navy Pier last week in a friend's sailboat, sang for 90 minutes before an audience of 2,200, and helped save Chicago's financially troubled Old Town School of Folk Music," the Tribune reported in 1977.


"The hair was almost gone in one case, and graying in another, but an ageless joy still lit the voices of folk singers Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie at Orchestra Hall Wednesday night," the Sun-Times reported in 1991.

"And despite competition across town from the Bulls' NBA finals game, a nearly full house sang, hooted and clapped along with the veteran troubadours."


Also in 1991: Seeger, accompanied by his grandson, at the Studs Terkel Toast, Bismarck Hotel.


"Pete Seeger toted his guitar and banjo on stage Saturday night in the auditorium of the Chicago Historical Society," Dave Hoekstra wrote for the Sun-Times in 2002.

"He carried his instruments with a certain dignity, as though they were pieces of luggage packed with worldly treasures. This is what Seeger does. He spreads songs like seeds."


"Bruce Springsteen's We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions is the best record Springsteen has made in several years," Hoekstra wrote in 2006.

"The disc, out Tuesday, overcomes the glossy production and calculated messages of his post-9/11 work."


Finally, Seeger asking the right question - not just of America's schools, but of its media and of itself.


Comments welcome.


1. From Aaron Michael Lisec:

Thanks for the nice compilation. He and Studs were cut from the same cloth, for sure. I was at that Navy Pier concert in 1977. A great memory. Such a beautiful late summer afternoon and the audience was like a huge choir. Magical.


Posted on January 28, 2014

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