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Pete Seeger's Humble About His Legacy

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Friday, January 30, 2009

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The debate over what folk music actually is amuses Pete Seeger.

“My father, who was an old musicologist, said, ‘Don’t waste time arguing is it a folk song or not. Just know that the folk process has been going on for thousands of years if not tens of thousands of years, and keep passing the music along,’ ” recalls Seeger who, at 89, is responsible for passing plenty of music along himself.

A singer, songwriter, author, activist and bona fide American cultural icon, the New York-born Seeger — one of the headliners at this weekend’s Ann Arbor Folk Festival — sprang from the same folk tradition as

Woody Guthrie and Lead Belly, bringing ballads, sea chanteys and spirituals forward for new generations. With his own hand, he penned future standards such as “Turn, Turn, Turn!,” “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” “If I Had a Hammer (The Hammer Song)” and a popular arrangement of the traditional “We Shall Overcome.”

Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Bruce Springsteen are just a few of the myriad artists he’s influenced, and Seeger has been feted with everything from a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award to career honors from the Kennedy Center and the National Endowment of the Arts and even an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Being blacklisted during the ’50s only added to his legend, and he remains a socialist-minded environmental and peace activist who last year released “At 89,” his first new studio album in five years, and also sang earlier this month at We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration At The Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

“It’s a nice feeling,” Seeger says of the notoriety, “but on the other hand it’s embarrassing, too, ‘cause they give me too much credit. They really do.

“There’s hardly a song I’ve written that I didn’t borrow from somebody else. And if people like ‘If I Had a Hammer,’ then thank Peter, Paul and Mary for rewriting my second-rate melody — and the same thing with almost every other song I’ve written, really. That’s kind of part of the folk tradition, too, I think.”

The 32nd Ann Arbor Folk Festival takes place at 6:30 Friday and Saturday (Jan. 30-31) at Hill Auditorium, 825 N. University Ave., Ann Arbor. Tonight’s show features Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, Old Crow Medicine Show, Katie Herzig, Chelsea Williams and The Ragbirds. Tickets are $30 and $45. Saturday’s show with Kris Kristofferson, Pete Seeger, Girlyman, the Claire Lynch Band, Luke Doucet and The White Falcon and Misty Lyn & The Big Beautiful is sold out. Emcee Jim Lauderdale and the Carolina Chocolate Drops will perform both nights. Call (734) 761-1451 or visit www.theark.org. Pete Seeger also will be part of a panel discussion on politics and activism at 1 p.m. Sunday (Feb. 1) at the Arab American National Museum, 13624 Michigan Ave., Dearborn. Admission is free but capacity is limited. Call (313) 582-2266 or visit www.arabamerican museum.org.

Web Site: www.theark.org

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