How Can I Keep From Singing: A Seeger Family Tribute

On March 15–16, 2007, a celebration of the Seeger family’s contribution to American folk music was held at the Library of Congress, in Washington, D.C., co-sponsored by the American Folklife Center and the Music Divisions of the Library. The event began with a screening of highlights from the Pete and Toshi Seeger Film Collection, now housed at the Library. Neil Rosenberg, Professor Emeritus of Memorial University of Newfoundland, gave the keynote address of the March 16 symposium, which featured presentations on and by several generations of Seegers. Speaking were Betty Auman; Taylor Aitken Greer; Judith Tick; Peggy Seeger; Michael Taft; Todd Harvey; David Dunaway; Mike Seeger; Ray Allen; Robert Cantwell; Anthony Seeger; James Durst; Joe Hickerson; Bill Ivey; Millie Rahn; and Jeff Place. A concert at the Coolidge Auditorium on Friday evening with Mike, Peggy, and Pete Seeger performing with friends and family capped the event. Despite an ice storm, the audience was packed.

Anthony Seeger gave a lesson in cross-cultural communication in his talk, “‘Something’s Coming That Stinks’ (An Old American Folk Song?)”. In familiar Seeger fashion, the ethnomusicologist illuminated a big topic with a homely example, recounting how the Suyà Indians In Mato Grosso, Brazil, transformed an old American favorite and made it entirely their own.

Though his voice is now slightly roughened, eight decades have not dimmed Peter Seeger’s charisma and his genius for reaching audiences and teaching them songs from every corner of the globe. With a small change of text or tempo Pete can give a song universal appeal and “singability”. Multi-instrumentalist and singer Mike Seeger, who has devoted his life to plumbing the secrets of traditional musicianship, also performed and spoke – as did his sister, singer/songwriter Peggy Seeger, who read a moving tribute to their mother, Ruth Crawford Seeger. Peggy’s collaborations with her husband, the late Ewan MacColl, are well known.

Originally posted: March 15, 2007