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Review of Listen: How Pete Seeger Got America Singing

17th century Scottish writer Andrew Fletcher purportedly wrote the following in a letter,

“I said I knew a very wise man so much of Sir Christopher’s sentiment, that he believed if a man were permitted to make all the ballads he need not care who should make the laws of a nation, and we find that most of the ancient legislators thought that they could not well reform the manners of any city without the help of a lyric, and sometimes of a dramatic poet.”

American song-writer and singer, Pete Seeger (1919-2014) would undoubtedly agree with him. I’m going to chock up not knowing of this famous musician to my age, since he was in his prime well before I was born (and because it makes me feel better about my ignorance 😉 ).

This new children’s book, Listen: How Pete Seeger Got America Singing, written by Leda Schubert and beautifully illustrated by Raúl Colón, tells the story of the man who wrote or popularized such familiar American classics as, “This Land is Your Land,” “Shenandoah,” “Skip to My Lou,” and dozens of others.

More than an entertainer, Pete Seeger saw his role as a singer as one who could also effect social change. Throughout his career he used his music to advance numerous causes, even joining the Communist Party USA for several years, eventually being subpoenaed to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. He took his first amendment rights seriously, though, and continued sharing his musical message at schools, colleges, and summer camps. He had a way of connecting with common people and getting them singing right along with him. This is a great reminder of the power of music to touch and influence people. What a great privilege and responsibility we have as music teachers who are training the next generation of musicians!

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