Perhaps one of the most misunderstood, yet powerful voices in American culture, folk singer Pete Seeger is immortalized in this DVD that chronicles his life, his music, and his passion for causes.  For those who grew up in the era of hootenannies and the scourge that was McCarthyism, this will be a wonderful trip down memory lane. Those who remember him only through his music will learn about the difficulties he faced throughout his career, the risks he took for what he believes in, and the wonderful lady who stood by his side. Toshi  has been Pete’s wife and partner for more than sixty years, and of whom he once wrote,  “Thanks to my wife Toshi, without whom the world would not turn nor the sun shine.”

Seeger’s road to success was not easy. During the McCarthy era, Seeger was blacklisted because of an early association with the Communist party. This was prior to World War II and the atrocities connected to Hitler and the Party. Seeger said he joined the party, “Because they were against racism and for unions to ensure a living wage. That didn’t seem so bad.”

Just prior to being put on the Blacklist, Seeger had enjoyed his first taste of success. He had joined with three others to form the group, “The Weavers.” They gained national attention when they recorded “Good Night Irene” and were slated to have their own television show, when the Blacklist was released. The sponsor, Van Camps Beans, backed out of the television show after a headline was printed in the newspaper that read: “Folk Singer Refuses to Take Loyalty Oath.”

Because he wouldn’t acquiesce to pressure from the government – or anyone else – to say he had been wrong to join the Party, he was banned from performing on national television for nearly 20 years. During that time, he traveled the college circuit, performing and teaching wherever he could gather young adults or children together. Even now, at age 89, he says he enjoys singing with children the most.

His efforts gave birth to a Folk Revolution that spawned the infamous hootenannies and launched such stars as Joan Baez, Arlo Guthrie, Bob Dylan, and the trio Peter, Paul & Mary. Seeger also gave us such wonderful songs as “If I had a Hammer”,  “This Land is My Land”,  “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy”,  “Turn, Turn, Turn, To Everything There is a Season”, “Where Have all the Flowers Gone”, and “Guantanamera”.  All of the songs have messages pertaining to social justice, but none more poignantly than “Guantanamera”. It is sung most often in Spanish, but the English translation of one verse is,  “And for the cruel one who would tear out this heart with which I live. I cultivate neither thistles nor nettles. I cultivate a white rose.” (Original lyrics and music by Jose Fernandez Diaz  (Joseito Fernandez) Music arranged and adapted by Julian Orbon, Hector Angulo and Pete Seeger.)

Throughout his life, Pete Seeger used music as a tool to increase awareness of social issues and social justice. Using music, he brought a realization of the power of unity, that people can do anything when they come together for a cause. He was very active in the Civil Rights Movement and introduced Martin Luther King, Jr. to the song, “We Shall Overcome.”

PETE SEEGER: THE POWER OF SONG includes bonus features such as interviews  with Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Arlo Guthrie, Peter, Paul & Mary and the inconvenient artist himself, Pete Seeger along with never-before-seen archival footage and Seeger’s personal home movies. There is plenty of music as well, with highlights and snippits of numerous performances.

On a personal side, there were interviews with his children and clips from many family experiences, including one year-long trip around the world. Most touching of all the personal segments were moments with Pete and Toshi, especially one when they are out walking and a woman comes up to thank Pete for his music and what that has meant in her life. Toshi waits patiently at his side, and the viewer gets the sense that she has waited patiently by his side most of her life.

Another powerful moment in the documentary was footage of when Seeger was given the nation’s highest artistic honors at the Kennedy Center in December of 1994. A choral group sang, “Turn, Turn, Turn, To Everything There is a Season” and the camera moved in tight on Seeger’s face. No narrative was needed as the emotions were so clearly evident, and then he joined in singing.

That was near the end of the documentary, and it could have ended nicely there. It engaged me the way Seeger always wants to engage his listeners – in the heart.

PETE SEEGER: THE POWER OF SONG debuted on DVD August 5th – the latest title in The Miriam Collection from Genius Products and The Weinstein Company.

Price:   $24.95
Rating:                          PG-13
Run Time:                     93 minutes
Languages:                   English Dolby 5.1 and English Stereo
Subtitles:                      English and Spanish
Closed Captioned
Maryann Miller  Maryann’s Web site

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