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on October 8, 2012
Pete Seeger is a musical genius, and a man who has introduced many of us to the music of America. This goes without saying, at least to those of us who were born in the "boomer" generation. Many younger people may know his music, but have no idea that he had anything to do with it. Today, he is often praised and loved, but not many know his story. He has never written his autobiography, other than "An Incomplete Folksinger" which was a collection of short writings he'd done. This book does tell his story. And, an amazing story it is. Pete Seeger is a study in courage. Born to a family who was of upper class New England, he was fascinated by the songs of America (and the world). To him, this meant what later became known as folk music. At the time, it was labeled as "hillbilly" or country music. He learned it, became one of the greatest five-string banjo players of all time, and began collecting songs. He became a pacifistic fighter for the unions, against segregation and bigotry, for the American Communist Party, and, as World War II broke out, for the United States war effort. After the war, he had some of his greatest song writing success, while being caught in the Red Menace witch hunt of the House on Un-American Activites Committee (HUAC) in the 1940s and 1950s. Due to the problems with HUAC, and the reaction of the media, he was unable to appear on TV or network radio, so he was forced to tour constantly to make a living for himself and his family. He really didn't start to make a decent amount of money until the late 1950s, when other artist started recording many of his songs, and they became hits for them. These include: "Where Have All The Flowers Gone?", "Wimoweh", "Turn! Turn! Turn!" "We Shall Overcome" "If I Had A Hammer", and many others.

Pete is not perfect. At times, it seems that he only thinks one way, and it is very difficult for him to change his mind. Of course, I'm not saying that he is wrong. However, times do change. He took decades to admit that his beliefs in the Soviet Union were wrong. He had a hard time understanding that the union movement of the 1930s had greatly changed after WWII, and that they no longer had a use for his type of songs. Nor, in fact, did the union movement of the 1950s readily support integration. In fact, they often opposed it, at least below the highest levels. The workers viewed it as a threat to their own employment.

This book is well written, and was fascinating to read. I do wish it had commented more on Pete's disagreement with Burl Ives' over the latter's going before HUAC, and his much later meeting with Ives shortly before Ives died, when they spoke and Seeger forgave him. While the book did mention Seeger's being upset, it did not mention his forgiveness.
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At nearly 57 I am struck by how many threads through my life criss-cross with the man I hold second only to my father as a symbol of the greatness of my country. The bonus for me in reading this balanced, comprehensive elaboration on the consistencies and contradictions of the Puritan-centered Pete Seeger I learned as much about my father as about Pete.

I should explain. My father was, on his mother's side, a descendent of Massachusetts Colony Puritans, while his father was a Norwegian immigrant who trapped and rambled the northwest states and provinces from Minnesota to British Columbia.

Until reading this book I had always tried understanding my father through his father. Now, though, I find that Dad, born three years after Pete, developed habits and principles so much more akin to his own mother and her family and blended them with his own father's Seton-style life dreams and habits.

My first memory of the name Pete Seeger was while serving aboard PG 99 Beacon. We went to visit our namesake, Beacon NY. As we neared the hamlet we passed by the Clearwater and admired the sloop. Our senior chief explained to us the owner of the sloop was a Communist Folk Singer.

Our visit to Beacon included an interview with the local newspaper that was well written by mis-attributed my folksy comparison of living on a small ship to living in a small town.

Fast forward to 1976: Serving on the USS Sperry I spent duty nights listening to folk music on a local college sponsored radio station. The most notable artist was, of course, Pete Seeger. I bought several of his albums not so much because of the earlier connection, but, simply, because I had become hooked on listening to somebody whose songs were stories instead of noise and whose songs reminded me of my youth.

You see, on Friday mornings at Mark Twain Elementary in Lynwood, CA we always sang folk songs and many of them had, I learned in the 70's, been written or popularized by Pete Seeger.

By 1986 the world was changing. I loved folksy-type back to nature living and was trying to find my way to a life of E. T. Seton by publishing a very small Living Among Nature Daringly magazine. After publishing my first issue (such a disaster I nearly gave up) I received a reply from Pete Seeger to a lengthy list of questions I had naively mailed him some weeks previously.

I delighted in his thoughtful honest response to my letter and went on to publish issue two almost only because he did respond. I then went off to Cairo, Egypt for 19 months and continued publishing because his response gave me a reason to work my dream!

LAND Magazine went on to be awarded Best New magazine for 1986 by Bill Katz and Library Journal. Not bad for a periodical started by a man with no writing experience and only $22 and a Texas Instruments home computer and dot matrix printer!

Pete Seeger is responsible for my success then and with my having developed into a journalist with a determination to work for a unified peace-oriented world that puts human beings at the center of society. With Seeger and my father I share the dream for equality in pay, rights and privilege. In a nutshell that is what Pete Seeger told me was his primary goal in my interview of him in 1986. He told me also that his ideal was communism of the sort practiced by native Americans.

Altruistic perhaps but, as our society stretched along the road where some got ultra-rich while those who actually do the daily dredging slipped ever further into debt it was inevitable that a too-little-regulated capitalism would lead to panic for the rich in which the conservative wealthy would demand and obtain rescue while continuing to sacrifice the low and middle income workforce.

In short, what Pete and Woody and Huddie sang for was to prevent precisely what happened when nobody was around to sing or be heard singing for - freedom of speech, equality of privilege; civil rights; peace.

This book, How Can I Keep From Singing has done far more credit to Pete by staying frank, honest and balanced than it would had it adopted the natural line of hero-worship.

Where have all the flowers gone? Let us all plant the seeds today for the next generation. Pete Seeger and Toshi did for us.

In How Can I Keep From Singing? The Ballad of Pete Seeger, David King Dunaway has planted the first seed. How many others among us will do likewise? - C. William Anderson
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on December 29, 2011
This well-written, well-researched biography of one of America's folk icons is "can't- put-it-down" fare. The influences of family, the times, and the music itself that shaped Pete Seeger's music make for fascinating reading. One emerges from this book with an enhanced sense of history as heard through the songs sung by Seeger and his contemporaries, Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie, the Almanac Singers, and the Weavers, to name a few. Of particular import is the discussion of Seeger's interrogation by McCarthy's House Committee on Unamerican Activities, and subsequent blacklisting. The important lesson to be derived from this book is that "Freedom Isn't Free". Seeger and new generations of his family have continued to lend music to various important causes and movements in our nation. His story enhances credence to a quotation from him: that "Songs Change Things". " Given that, and the state of our world, 'How Can (We) Keep From Singing?"
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on August 8, 2008
David King Dunaway has done a wonderful job in updating his classic biography of Pete Seeger. Dunaway, with excellent narrative skill, tells not only Seeger's life story, but also gives us a mini-history of the progressive movement in this country for the last eighty years or so. Seeger's involvement in the labor movement, the civil rights movement, the peace movement, and the environmental movement are all covered in depth. Also the struggle to be able to sing his songs in a supposedly free America is explored in the tales related to the riots at Peekskill, the McCarthy era, the blacklist, and right-wing bigots picketing his concerts.

The best part of all of this is that Pete Seeger, at age 89, is still actively writing and singing. I had the pleasure to see him in concert, along with his grandson Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, and Guy Davis two nights ago at the Sellersville Theater. He can still get a crowd to sing along with him. While his voice is perhaps not what it used to be (but as Arlo Guthrie told him "neither is our hearing"), the magic is still there.

This book captures as much of that magic as the printed page can hold, and is a great book for people of all ages to read. I highly recommend it if you are interested in reading about a real, authentic, inspiring American hero.
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on May 10, 2008
Since 1971, I have been a fan of Joan Baez, whose anti-war songs I liked, and still like. At the same time, I had a friend who was a fan of Bob Dylan. Often, when I visited my friend, we would first play Joan Baez and then Bob Dylan. (Unfortunately, my friend died in 2004.) He and I were knowledgeable in folk music and soft rock. At one point,in the late 90's, I asked him if he knew of a good version of the song "Down By The Riverside", and he recommended the version sung by Pete Seeger. I am not joking when I write this, but this is the first time I had ever heard of Seeger. Of course, I bought a CD with that song, and it turned out to be part of the album LIVE AT NEWPORT and is very well done. I also learned that both Joan Baez and Bob Dylan were influenced and inspired by Pete Seeger, as were Peter, Paul, and Mary, of whom my late wife was a fan. This in turn made me develop an interest in Pete Seeger and his life and work. When I learned of this book, I decided to buy it, and have just finished reading it. It is one of the best biographies I have ever read. Pete Seeger is described as courageous and steadfast, even under the most difficult of circumstances. The book describes how he is literally persecuted by Joe McCarthy and company as well as the J.-Edgar-Hoover-run-FBI. Of course, it becomes evident that Joe McCarthy is a senseless witch hunter, and that J. Edgar Hoover runs the FBI as if it were his own private property and business (which indeed he did). Seeger stands tall at all times, is not intimidated, and eventually makes a great name for himself as a musician. He earns the like of his fans and, of course, singers like Joan Baez and Bob Dylan who are full of praise for him. Indeed, his life is a ballad which goes on and on for the cause of harmony and peace. Seeger stands tall to this very day, as the book clearly describes.
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on February 5, 2013
Wow - if you want to talk about a full life, well lived, then Peter Seeger is your subject. His personal journey is one of continual intersections with US history, as this documentary clearly shows. Labor Rights, HUAC, Civil Rights, folk revival, Vietnam War protests, cleaning up the Hudson River - the list goes on and Pete Seeger was in the middle of it.

With its high production values and great soundtrack, I think every high school student in America should watch this documentary to learn about the 20th Century.
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on June 12, 2008
If you worry about individual rights, government trampling of the Constituion and cause oriented people you'll be interested in this book.
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on December 13, 2013
Wanted a detailed biography to find out who Pete Seeger really was. Too bad the communist party was the only choice available to him to take a stand for the average man.
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on December 23, 2013
Very few things in the United States are actually original. Pete Seeger is an original. Also, I'm overwhelmed to find out that I too am a commie bastard.
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on August 25, 2013
I found a lot of data about Pete's life but I felt that I never got to know much about the psychology make up of the man.
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