The Protest Singer
An Intimate Portrait of Pete Seeger
By Alec Wilkinson
(Knopf, Hardcover, 9780307269959, 176pp.)
Publication Date: April 21, 2009
Other Editions of This Title: Paperback
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.
Alec Wilkinson began writing for The New Yorker in 1980. Before that, he was a policeman in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, and before that a rock-and-roll musician. He has published eight other books—two memoirs, two collections of essays, two biographical portraits, and two pieces of reporting. His honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Lyndhurst Prize, and a Robert F. Kennedy Book Award. He lives with his wife and son in New York City.
"A beautiful, honest portrait."--Los Angeles Times
"A slim, lucid volume . . . packs in all the key twists and turns in Seeger's very full life."--Boston Globe
"Wilkinson has done a magnificent job of creating a picture of a virtuous and principled man."--Minneapolis Star Tribune
"In prose as unassuming as his subject, Wilkinson captures Seeger's unpretentious, down-to-earth manner."--San Francisco Chronicle
"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 friendships with other legends such as Woody Guthrie."--Dallas Morning News
"A quick read that is both pithy and entertaining."--Christian Science Monitor
“Wilkinson's biography reads as lucidly as if we were there with him, listening to Seeger's history as he boils maple sap down to syrup and chops his daily quota of firewood.”—Publishers Weekly
"[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.”--Newsday