Folk music has always held a special place in my heart. Summer camp meant singing time honored songs of this genre, and while others were listening to 80s hair bands, I was happily ensconced in American folk. I grew up knowing the words to almost every song by Peter, Paul and Mary, Simon & Garfunkle, Joan Collins, Bob Dylan and Crosby, Stills & Nash. From an early age this style of music touched me deeply and probably helped form some of my pacifist and liberal ideas.
Bloomsbury Children’s Books has just put out an amazing account of the life of Pete Seeger, one of the fathers of the American Folk movement called Stand Up and Sing! Pete Seeger, Folk Music, and the Path to Justice. Covering his life from early childhood to his death in 2014, author Susanna Reich put together a book that might help the next generation think more deeply about the world around them and the music they listen to.
For Seeger, music was in his bones, but he also was a very well read and aware of politics at an early age. He was a child of the Great Depression and had a really difficult time understanding why some people had great wealth and some had nothing. His father took him to parades and marches for working people and he saw how music could unite people.
Reich does a great job of showing how Seeger learned various music styles by traveling and being exposed to a wide variety of cultures and experiences. And just as Pete Seeger influenced a slew of other artists, it was Woody Guthrie who took him under his wing and showed him that “music could fill a room with peace and harmony.”
Pete Seeger used his music to try and make important changes in our world. He dreamed of a world where there were fewer people struggling to get by. He believed strongly in workers’ rights and racial equality, things that were considered “un-American” in his time. In the time of McCarthy, Pete was blacklisted for his beliefs.
An interesting part of the book comes when it talks about Seeger’s friendship with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the fact that it was Seeger who introduced King to the song “We Shall Overcome.”
When I think of American Folk music, I think of the anti-war movement of the 1960s and 70s. Some of my all-time favorite tunes were ones that Seeger wrote but which I heard performed by Peter, Paul & Mary – If I Had a Hammer, Turn! Turn! Turn!, and Where have all the Flowers Gone. These were the songs that ached for peace and lamented a war that took so many lives and accomplished little to nothing.To me, folk music is all about bringing people together and lifting them up. Get the right group of adults together today and you can have a really awesome singing fest of music old and new. Music is a tool to inspire people. Pete Seeger inspired a generation of singers and songwriters along with activists and believers. This book is an awesome tribute to his life and his genius.
Every Wednesday I try to post a non-fiction picture book as part of the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy. There are truly so many amazing nonfiction picture books being published these days, it can be hard to contain myself sometimes. Make sure to check out Kid Lit Frenzy and the linked blogs to find some more fabulous books!