In 1977, the Florida Folklife Program sponsored a series of free concerts by nationally renowned folk musicians at the Stephen Foster Center in White Springs. Included in the lineup were Jean Ritchie, the New Christy Minstrels, the Kingston Trio, Doc and Merle Watson, and Pete Seeger, who turned 93 on May 3. To celebrate Pete’s birthday, we’ll revisit his performance recorded 35 years ago in this month’s podcast.
Born in New York City, Pete Seeger learned the banjo in 1938, and worked with Alan Lomax at the Archive of American Folk Song in the Library of Congress. As a songwriter, his original repertoire included “Turn Turn Turn” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone.” He also formed two influential groups, the Almanac Singers and the Weavers, who sang labor anthems like “Which Side are You On?” as well as traditional numbers such as “Goodnight, Irene.”
During his extensive career, Seeger inevitably crossed paths with Florida folk artists. In 1956, he recorded for Folkways Records with the Washboard Band, which featured Florida Folk Heritage Award Winner William “Washboard Bill” Cooke. Not surprisingly, he also struck up a friendship with the Father of Florida Folk himself, Will McLean. The two performed together in 1963 at Carnegie Hall, and Will McLean was notably present for Seeger’s 1977 White Springs appearance.
Pete Seeger wrote about Florida in his music as well. “Delbert Tibbs” is an ode to the African-American poet who was wrongfully convicted of murder and rape in 1974 and sat on death row in Raiford State Penitentiary until January of 1977. The song helped procure justice for Tibbs, and in 1982, all charges against him were dismissed.
Today, at the age of 93, Pete Seeger is still performing, recording and promoting social justice. Let’s hand the microphone over to our mistress of ceremonies, Thelma Boltin, and sing along as Pete picks the banjo and strums his 12-string guitar.