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“Pete Seeger: The Power of Song” is a 2007 documentary, released
the following year on DVD, as a part of the Miriam Collection. It was
also broadcast on television via the Public Broadcasting Service, as
an episode of their “American Masters” series. “The Power of Song”
is an apt title. For most of his life, Seeger (1919 -) has used his music
to effectively reach out to the masses.

This film begins with a description of his parents, who were both
formidable musicians. Pete’s father, Charles, was a pianist and
ethnomusicologist, while his mother, Constance, was an accomplished,
classically trained violinist. While touring America, Charles learned
of the virtuosity of its indigenous musicians, thereby increasing his
interest in music from his own native America. Naturally, much of
this “rubbed off” on young Pete. He soon learned to play the ukulele,
and later became an accomplished banjo player.

Quite a bit of footage is devoted to Pete Seeger’s commitments to
political and social activism. According to my sources, he became a
founding member of The Weavers, a Folk group, in 1948. During the
1950’s, Pete and other members of this group were “black listed” as
Communists, which was highly publicized. Despite these challenges,
he persevered, later spending time teaching children in schools. He
always encouraged audience participation during his concerts,
regardless of the political beliefs of the crowd. Using music as his
vehicle, Pete Seeger wanted to make the world a better place. In
this process, he arguably became the most important architect of the
revival of Folk music. Among other songs, “If I Had a Hammer,”
“Turn, Turn, Turn” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” were
written or co-written by Pete Seeger.

In later years, he embraced environmental causes, and was the
primary catalyst behind the movement to clean up the polluted
Hudson River. He and his wife, Toshi, live in a log cabin which he
built with his own hands, during the 1940’s. This film and the roughly
30 minutes of bonus features clarify Pete Seeger’s commitment to
nature, as a “man of the earth.”

The film is punctuated throughout with interviews and testimonials
from musical stalwarts, such as Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Arlo
Guthrie, Joan Baez, and Bonnie Raitt, as well as from former President
of the United States, Bill Clinton. Film footage is also devoted to
Pete’s family members, including his wife, brother and children.
For me, the most moving moment in the film was watching Roger
McGuinn pay tribute to Pete Seeger, during the 1994 Kennedy Center
Honors.

In the broadest possible definition of the term, Seeger’s “musical
evangelism” and accomplishments have had an incalculable influence
upon the fabric of life in America and overseas. This documentary is
first rate, and gets an “A” from me.

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