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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An American Icon and Folk Historian
This short biography describes Pete Seeger's evolution as a person and musician. It begins by describing Seeger's upbringing in a politically-aware, educated family that encouraged and developed his musical talents. After enrolling at Harvard -- where he was in the same class as JFK -- Pete decided that his life's work was as a cultural historian. He left college to...
Published on May 17, 2009 by rctnyc

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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars disappointed
My husband and I greatly admire Pete Seeger and have followed his singing most of our lives. He is a personal hero at a time when the word hero is in my opinion over used. I bought the Wilkinson book as an anniversary gift and was looking forward to reading it myself. What a disappointment. I feel it is poorly written with long rambling quotes and little of substance on...
Published on September 21, 2009 by Sarah Gibson


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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An American Icon and Folk Historian, May 17, 2009
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This review is from: The Protest Singer: An Intimate Portrait of Pete Seeger (Hardcover)
This short biography describes Pete Seeger's evolution as a person and musician. It begins by describing Seeger's upbringing in a politically-aware, educated family that encouraged and developed his musical talents. After enrolling at Harvard -- where he was in the same class as JFK -- Pete decided that his life's work was as a cultural historian. He left college to travel around the country, and soon began composing and singing to earn a living, meeting and performing with Woody Guthrie and others at political rallies, union meetings and other places where ordinary people gathered. Pete fought in WWII and, after the war, along with three other folk musicians, formed the iconic folk group, The Weavers. Throughout his career, he studied and collected examples of traditional folk music, while adding his own compositions to the long line of American songs that stetched back beyond the Revolution to the colonial period. Pete viewed such music as the medium through which ordinary Americans recorded and expressed their feelings, experience, hopes and dreams. His family supported him in his endeavors, as well as in his efforts to build a home and life in the hills overlooking the Hudson River, in Beacon, New York, where he and his family still live.

Pete's political beliefs, and his courage in standing up to McCarthyism, are linked in Wilkinson's biography to his underlying philosophy, which views all people as members of a single spiritual community. Pete Seeger's goal has been to unite people of many backgrounds, classes, ethnicities, racial backgrounds and religions through the common vehicle of music, which he views as the expression of a common, human spirit. It is this common humanity, not a political ideology, that Seeger seeks to advance through his efforts as a writer and singer. Wilkinson allows Seeger to explain these motives and objectives in his own words.

A significant passage in the book describes Pete's response when, after a concert during the Vietnam era, a man came up and said that he'd come there that night to kill Pete, but had changed his mind. Pete sat down and talked with the man, and they sang "Where Have All The Flowers Gone" together. Afterwards, the man had said "I feel cleansed," and left quietly. This episode demonstrated the strength of Pete's faith in the transforming power of empathy and common bond forged by music. Rather than merely accept the man's tacit apology, or feel afraid, Pete tried to heal the man -- a Vietnam war vet -- and succeeded.

Wilkinson writes that Pete Seeger wished for him to write a biography that could be read in one sitting. This short book fills that bill. It is informative, entertaining and helps the reader to understand and appreciate the eras through which Pete has lived in his 90 years. An appendix containing Seeger's HUAC testimony during the McCarthy era allows the reader to evaluate for him or herself Pete's actions during that troubled period.

Although I do not agree with every political position that Pete has taken in his long life, he is in my estimation an ethical person and American patriot. His patriotism is about honor, integrity and justice, not ideology. Yet those who disagree with that assessment would also appreciate this biography, which is evenhanded, informative and fair. I'll bet that Pete likes it.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intimate, June 28, 2009
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This review is from: The Protest Singer: An Intimate Portrait of Pete Seeger (Hardcover)
Intimate in the title is the key to this book. The events of Pete Seeger's life are highlighted, many of which are well known, but the pearls of the book are the quotes that are included from their conversations as Seeger answered questions about his journey through life.

"People ask, is there one word that you have more faith in than any other word,"he told me, "and I say it's participation. I feel that this takes on so many meanings. The composer John Philip Sousa said,'What will happen to the American voice now that the phonograph has been invented? Women used to sing lullabies to their children.' It's been my life work, to get participation, whether it's a union song, or a peace song, civil rights, or a women's movement, or gay liberation. When you sing, you feel a kind of strength; you think, I'm not alone, there's a whole bunch of us who feel this way. I'm just one person, but it's almost my religion now to persuade people that even if it's only you and three others, do something. You and one other, do something. If it's only you, and you do a good job as a songwriter, people will sing it."

And the pictures; they show a man working hard for that participation from himself and from others with grace and joy and sticking by what he believes is right no matter what. Pete Seeger is a man to be thanked and copied, we need more like him.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A True Man of the People, August 26, 2009
By 
MZ (Los Angeles, CA USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Protest Singer: An Intimate Portrait of Pete Seeger (Hardcover)
Alec Wilkinson is one of my favorite essayists and Pete Seeger is one of my favorite people; this lovely short portrait leaves one with a sweet image of this true man of the people. Pete Seeger, a folksinger all his life, shunning commercial success in favor of just singing to whoever asked him--and mainly, to union workers, school children and other low-budget audiences--standing up courageously to the House Un-American Activities Committee and being blacklisted for years afterward, is a true American hero in the traditional sense. He's the genuine article: he really doesn't seek fame and fortune and wishes only to sing for, and with, the people. The more people join in, the better; for Seeger, it isn't about his own voice or his talent.
His one shot at serious commercial success was dashed by the blacklisters when, in the early 1950s, his group, the Weavers, had been signed by a television network for their own show. A right-wing group published a pamphlet listing notable men and women whom they claimed were Communists, including Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Miller, Orson Welles, and Seeger. Incapable of bitterness, Seeger's only comment was, "I expected it, so I didn't really feel resentful. We assumed that sooner or later they'd get us."
Seeger lives with his wife of many decades--who seems to share his unpretentious taste--in a woodsy home where he makes his own maple syrup and entertains his visiting children and grandchildren. His lifestyle is simple and basic, as befits a person with his values, described by Wilkinson thus: "...a reverence for nature, a regard for human life, something like scorn for the nurturing of materialistic values, and a belief in the worth of right moral behavior."
Wilkinson writes elegantly, which makes this story even more of a treat to read. Here he is describing Seeger's voice: It was "what is called a split tenor. It was robust--it sounded like the voice that comes from a few rows behind you in church and that everyone follows--and even in complicated passages his pitch was precise."
A portrait emerges of a cheerful, uncomplicated, and genuinely folksy man.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Another fine book about Ameica's folksinging icon, September 29, 2009
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Arkansas Red (Eureka Springs, Arkansas United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Protest Singer: An Intimate Portrait of Pete Seeger (Hardcover)
Fans of Pete Seeger who have studied his career will enjoy this book. Mr. Wilkinson has done a fine job, and it shows that at ninety Pete has no thoughts of really slowing down. The fire in his heart still burns as bright as it did back in his younger days. His name is still "magic" when mentioned around banjo players. Even the late Louise Scruggs paid homage to Pete Seeger in Earl Scrugg's banjo book as being one of the best people to advance the five string banjo in the world. This book is a nice intimate portrait of America's folksinging Johnny Appleseed. A very enjoyable read.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars delicious and speedy biography, September 24, 2009
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This review is from: The Protest Singer: An Intimate Portrait of Pete Seeger (Hardcover)
This biography of Seeger, The Protest Singer, by Alec Wilkinson, 2009, Knopf, is a delicious and speedy read. Welcome illustrations too.

Wilkinson cites "Seeger's biographer, David King Dunaway" in two or three places. I enjoyed Wilkinson's story so much that I am now reading the Dunaway biography, How Can I Keep from Singing: The Ballad of Pete Seeger, and I can compare them.

At 428 pp, Dunaway's is the definitive biography, its first edition having been published in the 1980s. With rich collaboration between the author and his subject, the second edition, which appeared in 2008, is a masterpiece in the genre. I recommend both books -- Seeger's story is a terrific one at any length.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unforgettable voice, March 14, 2010
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This review is from: The Protest Singer: An Intimate Portrait of Pete Seeger (Hardcover)
Pete Seeger's music has spoken to generations now, in our country (USA) as well as abroad. This wonderful video biography reminds us of the incredible impact he has had.

The video contains Seeger singing many of his best known pieces, and does so in the context of his interactions with audiences in concert and with groups of other people in different settings. The music is, of course, superb. But be clear that this is not simply a collection of Seeger's music. It is some of the story of his life.

His formative early years are presented, and I found that fascinating. The video presents his musical, political, and personal development as he grows and matures into adulthood. It interviewed him about those hard years (for him and for the whole nation) of the McCarthy investigations of the 1950's. Because of his refusal to "name names" before McCarthy's witch-hunting investigation, he was blacklisted. The only "concerts" he found he could give, to which no one objected, was to children and young people in schools. Seeger chuckled as he recounted how that was exactly the age group he could have picked to sing to and sing with. After all, it was a great way to get across his passions - about love and grace, peace and justice - to kids in their formative years. Would that ALL who heard him could be as inspired and moved as were the kids with whom Pete sang!

The video highlights Seeger's later work, including his herculean efforts (with others) to clean up the Hudson River and to continue to address the increasingly important needs to speak out for peace and justice in our world. The closing scenes with Seeger singing in concert with his grandson are both touching and inspiring.

This video reminded me that Pete Seeger has a truly unforgettable voice... both the music itself that he offers the world, as well as the interconnected message that he brings in and through his music. The video will touch your life, as Pete Seeger continues to touch our world with a voice and message that must never be extinguished.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, February 21, 2014
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".... He had wanted a biography that could be read in one sitting, and I tried to do that. The book had been a publisher’s idea, and when I called Seeger to ask if he would take part, I said that a publisher had asked me to expand the Profile. I heard Toshi, in the background, ask what I wanted. Seeger said, “He would like to expand the Profile into a book,” and Toshi responded, “Tell him you’ve been expanded enough....”
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An engaging, charming, and real odessy, August 24, 2010
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The mystery is that Pete Seeger survives and endures. In his lifetime which spans much of the turmoil of the Twentieth Century, he has been beset by some of the most vicious and evil forces we have experienced in this country and in the world. Yet, here he is, still pluckin' and singin' and taking on injustice and good causes, like cleaning up the Hudson River.

I suppose I'm biased. I grew up in a time when folk singing in America was in the ascendency and I have a lot of old records and memories of these folks, including Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, several others, and had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Seeger through the good offices of my friend, another fine folk singer, Gene Bluestein. So it was great to read about all those folks, many of whom it's easy to think of as friends, whether personal or only through their music, through the sensibilities of Seeger and Wilkinson.
It is wonderful, although disturbing, to read this elegantly written, honest look at a man, his friends and companions, his family, his trials and his triumphs, who sang his way into the hearts and memories of a lot of people. Seeger's influence, not just in the music world; after all, the Weavers recording of "Goodnight Irene" in 1950 sold over a million copies, is and will be enduring.

This slender book, written in the kind of engaging style that is somehow the essence of Seeger's approach to a principled life, is a moving tribute to him and to everything that's right in these United States. Readers may disagree with his points of view, but you cannot disagree with the way Mr. Seeger fashioned his protest. Wilkinson has set down, in a most engaging manner,for readers everywhere, the values and the reality of a true American.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars disappointed, September 21, 2009
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This review is from: The Protest Singer: An Intimate Portrait of Pete Seeger (Hardcover)
My husband and I greatly admire Pete Seeger and have followed his singing most of our lives. He is a personal hero at a time when the word hero is in my opinion over used. I bought the Wilkinson book as an anniversary gift and was looking forward to reading it myself. What a disappointment. I feel it is poorly written with long rambling quotes and little of substance on any aspect of Pete's life. The book contains a section on testimony from the House Un-American Activities Committee and then adds an addendum of the entire testimony totaling 27 pages from the total book of 152 pages. True, you can read it at one sitting but it adds little to the understanding of Seeger and all he represents and left me wishing I hadn't bothered to read it all.
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4.0 out of 5 stars I really enjoyed reading this book, August 7, 2014
By 
Bucky ("cornfield county" Indiana) - See all my reviews
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I really enjoyed reading this book. It IS a short read, but that works for me. I usually read a few pages before bed. Although I only "discovered" Pete Seeger five years, or so, ago, I already own a couple of other books about him. One part that I found really interesting is the transcript of the interviews of Pete by the House Committee on Un-American Activities. (I may not have their title quite right) It's located at the end of the book. Anyway, If you're a fan of Mr. Seeger, go ahead and order this book. It's not one that'll keep you busy for days, but it's most definitely worth reading.
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The Protest Singer: An Intimate Portrait of Pete Seeger
The Protest Singer: An Intimate Portrait of Pete Seeger by Alec Wilkinson (Hardcover - April 21, 2009)
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