Pete Seeger RIP
(May 3, 1919 – January 27, 2014)
The New York Times wrote:
His agenda paralleled the concerns of the American left: He sang for the labor movement in the 1940s and 1950s, for civil rights marches and anti-Vietnam War rallies in the 1960s, and for environmental and antiwar causes in the 1970s and beyond. “We Shall Overcome,” which Mr. Seeger adapted from old spirituals, became a civil rights anthem.
I never knew much about Pete Seeger, but I’m very impressed by his 1966 short documentary Afro-American Work Songs In a Texas Prison. It documents the music African American prisoners used to survive their forced hard labour. With modernisation and integration, these worksongs died out shortly after this film was finished.
Here’s the opening, or you can watch the full film at folkstream
Bruce Jackson wrote in his notes about the film:
“Black slaves used work songs in the plantations exactly as they had used them before they had been taken prisoner and sold to the white men. The difference was this: in Africa the songs were used to time body movements and to give poetic voice to things of interest because people wanted to do their work that way; in the plantations there was added a component of survival. If a man were singled out as working too slowly, he would often be brutally punished. The songs kept everyone together, so no one could be singled out as working more slowly than everyone else.”