The Radio Series
Pete Seeger: How Can I Keep From Singing? reveals an inside history of American folk music’s most famous and controversial performer in three, one-hour programs.
Originally aired on over 230 PRI stations nationwide during the Summer and Fall of 2008, this series is now available to all stations through Public Radio Exchange.
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Please click on the program titles for more information on each program in the series.
Program I: Origins
How did a Harvard-educated boy become a radical, hitchhiking, banjo-playing, political activist? Program I explores Seeger’s youth and America’s folk revival of the 1930s and ‘40s.
Program II: Folk Songs and Ballads
This program evokes the exciting folk music revival of the 1950s and ‘60s and the role Seeger played in it.
Program III: Topical and Protest Songs
Program III looks at the tradition of singing out for social change, and how the music of the Civil Rights, anti-war, and environmental movements galvanized Seeger’s life.
Program I: Rediscovering America’s Folk Music
The origins of Pete Seeger go back to his family’s 18th Century immigration from Germany to Puritan New England and continues down through his musicologist parents, Charles and Constance Seeger. Seeger’s older brothers were given violin and piano lessons, but Pete was left to the ukulele. He grew up during the Depression amidst the folk music revival of the 1930s and ‘40s—with Alan Lomax, Lead Belly, and Woody Guthrie.
Seeger’s youthful hitchhiking with a banjo collected folk music. The result was 124 records and CDs, which shape our repertoire as Americans—the songs we know words to, and might sing aloud on buses.
- Rare interviews with Pete’s father, Charles Seeger, profile the first person to teach folk music at an American college
- Featured artists: Arlo Guthrie, Holly Near, Si Kahn
- Great Stories: Pete Seeger sings and tells the story of writing his first song, “66 Highway Blues”
Program II: Folk Songs and Ballads – Bringing Folk Music Alive
This program evokes the exciting folk music revival of the 1950s and ‘60s. It starts at Seeger’s first musical group, The Almanac Singers, who sang labor, peace songs and anti-Nazi songs in 1941. The story continues as Seeger formed the Weavers, a best-selling musical group in the 1950s, before being blacklisted. Throughout controversy, Seeger promoted folk music from many American traditions, a musical Johnny Appleseed. The musical emphasis here is ethnomusicological, on old-timey banjo tunes and on pop-folk crossover songs of the Weavers (“Kisses Sweeter Than Wine,” “Goodnight Irene”).
- Behind-the-scenes stories from Pete Seeger, Bess Lomax, and Lee Hays about The Almanac Singers and The Weavers
- Previously secret files reveal a history of FBI and CIA surveillance of the Hootenany crowd.
- Interviews with Don McLean, The Weavers
Program III: Topical and Protest Song - Keeping a tradition alive
Music has always served as a barometer of the times, even, if those ruling paid it scant attention. In the 1960s, Seeger’s life was galvanized by music of the Civil Rights, anti-war, and environmental movements. Though already the most-recorded American musician, from children’s songs to tunes on steel drums, he was blacklisted from network television. Many well-known folk musicians such as Joan Baez and the Kingston Trio were first heard and inspired to sing folk and topical songs by Pete Seeger. Eventually, he was honored by the NEA’s Medal of Arts, a Grammy, etc.
Today, hundreds of bluegrass, blues, and folk festivals continue, bringing the folksongs Seeger taught to a younger generation. Pete Seeger’s legacy is continued by younger singers, such as Bruce Springsteen, Ani DiFranco, and the Dixie Chicks.
- Rare recordings of Seeger’s Civil Rights era songs
- Featyred artists: Judy Collins, Oscar Brand
- Pete talks about environmental activism and the sloop Clearwater