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Experience the Event
How Can I Keep From Singing? A Seeger Family Tribute at the Library of Congress

March 15-16, 2007, Library of Congress, Washington, DC


The 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 forebears.

Image of Charles Seeger
Charles Seeger

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, ca.1938
Ruth Crawford Seeger,
ca. 1938

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 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.

Pete Seeger passed away on January 27, 2014.

Photograph of Mike Seeger.
Mike Seeger

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.

Photograph of Peggy Seeger by Irene Young.
Peggy Seeger
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.


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