Music » Livewire

Pete Seeger

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum


Pete Seeger
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum
February 13

Woody Guthrie may be the father of the protest song, but his pal and protégé, Pete Seeger, gets a lot of credit for popularizing folk music in the second half of the 20th century. He's the guy who really took that little Coca-Cola commercial lyric -- "I'd like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony" -- to heart. Guthrie, a radical lefty, would probably be mortified at the corporate reference, but at a Hall of Fame series appearance at the Rock Hall, Seeger, now 80, gave yet another lesson to an eager group of students -- many of whom were in town for the national Folk Alliance conference. With his grandson, Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, lending his vocal power to the cause, Seeger charmed the 150 or so people crowded together to hear his humorous tales and heartwarming tunes.

Using the call-and-response method he helped popularize, Seeger had audiences singing in Spanish, Hebrew, and English -- - in rounds with four-part harmony. His "Boyce's Alleluya" became an explanation of musical notation -- and a bizarre but pretty overlap of baroque choir music and clawhammer-style bluegrass banjo picking. Seeger skipped "If I Had a Hammer," "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" and "Turn Turn Turn" (they were part of a performance video shown as part of Rock Hall education director Bob Santelli's preshow interview). But as he warbled through "Skip to My Lou," "Guantanamera," "Midnight Special," and "Goodnight Irene," his grandson's strong, clear tenor leading the way, Seeger once again demonstrated the brilliance of a simple adage his father told him -- "The important question is not "Is it good music?' but "What is the music good for?'" If teaching the world to sing in harmony is the answer, it's still a pretty darned noble goal. -- Lynne Margolis

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