Academic journal article Folk Music Journal

Mike Seeger (1933-2009)

Academic journal article Folk Music Journal

Mike Seeger (1933-2009)

Article excerpt

One of the almost legendary names in old-time traditional American music has passed on, a week short of his seventy-sixth birthday. Mike was the son of ultra-modern composer and early ethnomusicologist Charles Seeger and composer, arranger, and musicologist Ruth Crawford Seeger. He was the brother of Penny Seeger Cohen and of Peggy Seeger. He was the half-brother of Pete Seeger (and two other half-brothers) from Charles's first marriage.

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The family became interested in American traditional music largely through contact with John and Alan Lomax, whom they met through left-wing political organizations in New York in the 1930s. The family moved to Washington, DC, in 1936, following Charles's appointment to the New Deal 'Resettlement Administration' under the Roosevelt administration. Recordings being made by Lomax were a constant feature in the home in those early days, and I think there is little doubt that they had a profound influence on the later course of Mike's life. Mike was a largely self-taught singer and player of a whole raft of instruments, including guitar, banjo, fiddle, and mandolin. Of his various siblings, Mike was the only one who stayed steadfast to the real traditional music through to the end of his life.

A lot of Mike's later influence on the whole course of the revival was through the group the New Lost City Ramblers (NLCR), founded in 1958, with John Cohen (Mike's future brother-in-law) and Tom Paley. In 1962, Paley was replaced by Tracy Schwarz, and Seeger, Cohen, and Schwarz continued to perform as a group right up to the present, the last time, in July 2009, as a duo because Mike was by then too ill. It seems impossible to overstate the importance and influence of this group on two genetations of urban kids--and possibly also in restoring a sense of the importance of the traditions to rural kids, a few of whom would stay with the traditional forms and resist the lure of country-and-western popular music. I have written elsewhere that the traditional music of the USA is now extremely healthy and is not in the slightest danger of dying out. There have never in history been more singers and players of the old music in the old ways and for the old reasons than there are now (not all will agree with this, but I think any dispassionate analysis will convince). One can now hear at a whole slew of festivals and fiddlers' conventions simply superb traditional music, without even entering the festival. …

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