March 15-16, 2007, Library of Congress, Washington,
ABOUT THE SEEGER FAMILY
Seeger family has been at the forefront of American
creativity for nearly a century. Ancestors of the Seegers sailed
to America on the Mayflower, and fought in both the Revolutionary
War and the Civil War. In recent times, the Seeger family has
been known primarily for its contributions to music. As scholars,
composers, performers, and musicians, Seegers have enriched
American life, music, and scholarship. They have also been
fiercely principled, following in the footsteps of their abolitionist
Charles Seeger (1886-1979)
was a pioneering composer and musicologist, teaching at Berkeley,
Juilliard, and other leading universities and conservatories.
Seeger's ideas about music and musicology were instrumental in
founding the discipline of ethnomusicology. He also developed
an enthusiasm for American folk music, which he passed on to
many of his descendants.
Ruth Crawford Seeger,
Ruth Crawford Seeger (1901-1953),
Charles's second wife, is considered by many to be the most significant
American female composer of the twentieth century. She composed
modernist works throughout the later 1920s and early 1930s, her
most celebrated work being String Quartet 1931. In 1932,
Crawford married Charles Seeger, taking on responsibilities for
his three children, including Pete. With Seeger, she had several
children of her own, including Mike and Peggy Seeger. During
the 1930s and 40s, her work turned to transcribing and arranging
folksongs; she worked with her husband and with Alan Lomax on
several books, and published her own book, the influential American
Folksongs for Children, in 1948. She returned to composing
in the early 1950s, but her resurgence as a composer was cut
short by cancer, and she died in 1953.
Pete Seeger at home, 2006
Photo by Peggy Bulger.
Pete Seeger (b.1919), son of
Charles Seeger and elder brother of Mike and Peggy, is known
as America's most important living folksinger. He has authored
or co-authored a number of important songs, including "Where
Have All the Flowers Gone," "If I Had a Hammer," and "Turn, Turn,
Turn." He became entranced with the banjo as a teenager attending
the Folk Song and Dance Festival in Asheville, North Carolina.
In 1939, Pete's friend Alan Lomax invited him to come to Washington
to work at the Archive of American Folk Song, then part of the
Library of Congress's Music Division. The following year, Seeger
met folksinger Woody Guthrie at a concert in New York, and set
out to travel west with him. On his return from several cross-country
trips, Seeger formed the political group The Almanac Singers,
who continued to perform until Pete enlisted to serve in WWII,
sometimes featuring Guthrie as a member. On his return home,
Pete formed the folk quartet, The Weavers, whose string
of hits included a version of Leadbelly's "Goodnight Irene" that
topped the charts for 13 weeks in 1950. Due to his political
beliefs and statements, Seeger was blacklisted, and the Weavers
disbanded. Seeger later toured primarily as a soloist, singing
mostly traditional American songs, including ballads, blues and
spirituals, and playing the five-string banjo. Pete and his wife
Toshi have also shot extraordinary ethnographic films of music-making
in cultures around the world, which they have donated to the
American Folklife Center's Archive.
Mike Seeger, Charles and Ruth's
son, has devoted his life to singing and playing folk music of
the American south on banjo, fiddle, guitar, trump (jaw harp),
mouth harp (harmonica), quills (panpipes), lap dulcimer, mandolin
and autoharp. Mike first learned folk songs from his parents
and then from their collection of early documentary recordings.
He learned to play from masters such as guitarists Elizabeth
Cotten and Maybelle Carter, banjoists Dock Boggs and Cousin Emmy,
and autoharpist Kilby Snow. As a founding member of the New Lost
City Ramblers, Mike helped revive interest in traditional folk
music. He has recorded almost forty albums, both solo and with
others, and has been honored with three Grammy nominations.
Mike Seeger passed away on August 7, 2009.
Photo by Irene Young
Peggy Seeger is the daughter
of Charles and Ruth Crawford Seeger, sister of Mike Seeger, and
half-sister of Pete Seeger. A singer of traditional Anglo-American
songs and an activist songmaker, she plays six instruments: piano,
guitar, 5-string banjo, Appalachian dulcimer, autoharp and English
concertina. She has recorded 21 solo albums and participated
directly in more than a hundred others. She lived in England
for 35 years with singer/songmaker Ewan MacColl and has three
children and seven grandchildren. She now lives in Boston, tours
regularly worldwide and puts out a new CD every 18 months.
Anthony Seeger, nephew of Pete,
Mike and Peggy Seeger and grandson of Charles Seeger, is a leading
ethnomusicologist, currently teaching at UCLA. His numerous publications
include articles and books on issues of land and human rights
for Brazilian Indians, issues of archiving and intellectual property,
and ethnomusicological theory and method. He is the author of Why
Suyá Sing: A Musical Anthropology of an Amazonian People (Cambridge
University Press, 1987). The monograph was recognized as the
most distinguished book in musicology for the year with the 1988
Otto Kinkeldey Award from the American Musicological Society.
He also wrote five half-hour shows on American Folk Music that
were broadcast on the BBC in 1998. Anthony Seeger served as Director
of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings at the Smithsonian Institution
from 1988 to 2000.