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A true American original is brought to life in this rich and lively portrait of Pete Seeger, who, with his musical grace and inextinguishable passion for social justice, transformed folk singing into a high form of peaceful protest in the second half of the twentieth century. Drawing on his extensive talks with Seeger, New Yorker writer Alec Wilkinson lets us experience the man’s unique blend of independence and commitment, charm, courage, energy, and belief in human equality and American democracy.
We see Seeger instilled with a love of music by his parents, both classically trained musicians; as a teenager, hearing real folk music for the first time; and as a young man, singing with Woody Guthrie and with the Weavers. We learn of his harassment by the government for his political beliefs and his testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1949. And we follow his engagement with civil rights, the peace movement, and the environment—especially his work saving the Hudson River and building the ship Clearwater. He talks ardently about his own music and that of others, and about the power of music to connect people and bind them to a cause. Finally, we meet Toshi, his wife of nearly sixty years, and members of his family, at the house he built on a mountainside in upstate New York.
The Protest Singer is as spirited and captivating as its subject—an American icon, celebrating his ninetieth birthday.
“Wilkinson gives us a vivid sense of Seeger [in] this sweet, short volume . . . A beautiful, honest portrait of a man who has found a way to subsist off art.” –David Gura, Los Angeles Times
“[A] laser-sharp portrait of an artist and activist who has changed the lives of Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and millions of people who have lifted their voices to join him in song.” –Alan Light, The New York Times
“A slim, lucid volume that, despite its quick pace and casual tone, manages to engagingly pack in all the key twists and turn of Seeger’s very full life. Wilkinson also finds room to bring us on visits to Seeger’s Beacon, NY, home overlooking the Hudson River, where we observe him having lunch and bantering with Toshi, his wife of more than six decades, making syrup from tree sap he collected in buckets, and reflecting on his life’s meaning.” –Bill Beuttler, Boston Sunday Globe
“[Seeger’s] nine decades seem almost mythic, complete with a perfect origin story, trials, dangers, and big, quixotic inspirational victories–all of which are recounted engagingly.”–Sam Anderson, New York Magazine
“In crisp, elegant prose, Wilkinson outlines Seeger’s early life, his family’s influence upon his work, his activism for peace, civil rights and the environment, and his other friendships with legends such as Woody Guthrie. [His] plain-spoken poetry and consummately American style come through in Wilkinson’s book.” –Joyce Sáenz Harris, The Dallas Morning News
“Wilkinson . . . draws a picture of the folk singer not only by summoning up his history, public and private, but by giving us the man observed, in small swatches of manner and conversation.” –Peter Terzian, Newsday
“Almost hymn-like, with [scenes] that squeeze and amplify the heart.” –Karen R. Long, The Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Understated and compelling . . . an eloquent portrayal of Seeger’s faith in music to stir feelings that otherwise may have been repressed.” –Elizabeth Taylor, The Chicago Tribune