Sunday, May 3, 2009

Happy Birthday, Pete Seeger

The legendary folk musician Pete Seeger turns 90 today. Since 1949, Seeger has lived in a Hudson Valley hamlet about 90 miles south of Albany, and around here his birthday is a very big deal: in addition to writing (or co-writing) folk standards such as "If I Had a Hammer," "Turn, Turn, Turn," and "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" and making "We Shall Overcome" the anthem of the civil rights movement, he has played a key role in starting sustaining the citizen campaign to clean up the Hudson River.

In the mid-1960s, the Hudson was a mess: riverfront communities dumped raw sewage into the river, industrial plants discharged a witches' brew of toxic chemicals into it, and parts of the river were summertime dead zones. In 1966, Seeger, whose home overlooks the river, and a small group of friends decided to build the Clearwater, a replica of the cargo sloops that once sailed up and down the river, and use it as a floating observatory and classroom. The Clearwater quickly became a focal point for the Hudson River cleanup campaign. To date, hundreds of thousands of people, many of them children, have since sailed on it, examined the river and its flora and fauna, and conducted tests that measured the quality of its water.

Although lingering chemicals and invasive species threaten the Hudson, the river is in much better shape than it was forty years ago: fish are no longer covered by a cottage cheese-like film, sturgeon populations are on the rebound, and people swim in the river without any ill effects. Pete Seeger and his compatriots deserve a fair amount of credit for this vastly improved state of affairs and for their continuing work on the river's behalf.

Later today, Seeger, Bruce Springsteen, Ani DiFranco, and many, many other luminaries will perform at a gala concert honoring Seeger's birthday at Madison Square Garden. Seeger, who still plays (and chops wood!) but shuns the spotlight, generally turns down honors of this sort; the only reason he allowed this concert to go on is that all proceeds from it will benefit the Clearwater.

To the best of my knowledge, Pete Seeger's personal papers are still in his possession (and I hope that he and his wife, Toshi Seeger, are pack-rats!) However, Pete Seeger's life and work are reflected in archival collections held by repositories throughout the country. Repositories that hold substantial amounts of archival material relating to Seeger include:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Pete loves the Hudson Valley and the river towns near Beacon NY and is often found at local fests still by the Hudson riverfront parks at Clearwater festivals, and the Annual Strawberry fest every year, he is more comfortable I think just being with people plain an simple and yes, supporting the efforts of the Clearwater and the majestic Hudson river valley. Not too long ago he would be seen making Stone Soup at riverfront fests, and riding the commuter line with his banjo case up on the overhead rack. we love Pete!