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Throwback Thursday: The Folksinger

The Albany Student Press photo of Pete Seeger singing in University Gym on March 12, 1969. (Photo Courtesy UAlbany Archives

ALBANY, N.Y. (April 29, 2018) — At the height of the protest generation in American colleges, a particular reverence was paid to those artists who were social activists when such activism wasn’t so cool.

Such a figure was folksinger Pete Seeger, fighter for workers’ rights at home and supporter of the Liberty Brigade in the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, condemner of FDR’s peacetime draft of 1940 and founding member of legendary folk groups the Almanac Singers and The Weavers. Decades later, stars such as Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Peter, Paul & Mary and Judy Collins were still singing his songs and forever paying him homage.

Anti-Vietnam War sentiment was strong on campus when Seeger entertained an enthusiastic crowd at the UAlbany gymnasium on March 12, 1969. His headline protest for the event was not war, however, but was the growing pollution in his favorite waterway, with all money from ticket sales going to his Clear Up the Hudson River project.

He opened by displaying his musical roots, on banjo, with the bluegrass Appalachian folk song "Cripple Creek," and followed that with a witty song, “Blue Mountain Lake,” about rough and tumble lumber families in the Adirondacks.

Then came “My Dirty Stream,” which expressed hope that the Hudson River might once again run clear. He would later do tunes from an album he performed with Malvina Reynolds, advocating environmental activism.

Eventually, Seeger got around to some of his famed songs that inspired anti-war sentiment and social justice. They included “If I Had a Hammer,” “Turn! Turn! Turn!” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” And more direct Vietnam statement drew a huge response, “Bring ’Em Home.”

What the crowd had witnessed, wrote the ASP reviewer, was “a devoted, hard-working and respected man.”

Seeger died in 2014 at age 94. The Norman Studer Papers in Special Collections & Archives contain approximately 15 hours of rare live audio recordings of him singing and teaching children at a summer camp from the 1940s to early ‘60s.

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