Riveting new book narrates folksinger Pete Seeger's experience of the McCarthy era

Blacklists. Political witch-hunts. Congressional inquisitions. Loyalty oaths. And one brave, banjo-wielding patriot willing to risk prison and professional ruin rather than acquiesce.
Published April 2014
Published April 2014
NEWPORT, R.I. - April 21, 2014 - PRLog -- When Pete Seeger died at age 94 this past January, widespread media coverage included discussion of his trials and tribulations during the McCarthy era when he, like so many other entertainers and artists, was persecuted, subjected to gross indignities, and ultimately prosecuted for Contempt of Congress during the myriad anti-Communist witch hunts of that time. Pete Seeger vs. The Un-Americans: A Tale of the Blacklist, reveals never before known aspects of Seeger's experience during those deark days, including the backstory to his prosecution for Contempt (orchestrated by, of all people, Robert Kennedy).

The tale is one of great personal honor and commitment to principle. As Bob Dylan has commented in a most under-stated way: "Pete [was] blacklisted during the McCarthy era and had a hard time, but he never stopped." Eleanor Roosevelt wrote admiringly: "Pete Seeger, the folksinger … lives not far from me near Beacon, NY, and is loved by many people, young and old, who have enjoyed his music. … He has refused to take the Fifth Amendment because he felt that could be construed as an admission of guilt, and chose instead to invoke the freedoms of the First Amendment. His case is now in the higher courts."

In refusing to answer questions posed by the House Select Committee on Un-American Activities (1955), and at the same time refusing to take the Fifth Amendment, Seeger consciously put himself in harm's way of prosecution for Contempt - a brave act also embarked upon by such notables as playwright Arthur Miller, economist Otto Nathan, and the Hollywood Ten. Seeger's eventual 1961 prosecution resulted in guilty verdicts on ten counts, and a one year prison sentence - a finding overturned on a technicality in the Court of Appeals one year later. Summed up, the threat of prison hung over Seeger's head for a good seven years, from 1955 to 1962.

The impact upon Seeger's career was, for a time, quite devestating. He went from selling millions of records and touring top venues with his hit group The Weavers, to playing solo at summer camps and colleges for fees sometimes as low as $25. He and his family subsisted on a shoestring budget. The one thing he was able to put in the bank was his integrity.

The tale is also one of survival, endurance and eventual triumph. During the sixties - once McCarthyite hysteria subsided - Seeger's career revived and bloomed. He recorded with Columbia Records for a decade, routinely played to sell-out crowds at venues ranging from Carnegie Hall to London's Royal Albert Hall, and looked on as such Seeger-penned songs as "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" "Turn! Turn! Turn!" and "If I Had a Hammer" became hits respectively for the Kingston Trio, the Byrds and Peter, Paul & Mary.

By the end of his life, Seeger had been honored by the Kennedy Center, had received the Presidential Medal in the Arts, had been inducted (as an influence) into the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame, and had been the subject of a PBS American Masters documentary: "Pete Seeger - The Power of Song." Upon the occassion of his 90th birthday, 18000 people gathered in Madison Square Garden for a celebration concert organized by Bruce Springsteen, including performances by Joan Baez, John Mellencamp, Dave Matthews, Arlo Guthrie, Tim Robbins, Richie Havens and many others. (Speaking at the birthday celebration, Springsteen summed things up when he said: "Pete - You outlasted the bastards.")

Pete Seeger vs.The Un-Americans was initially funded by a Kickstarter campaign which raised more than $10,000 from 186 subscribers, these including Bruce Springsteen, Roger McGuinn (of the Byrds) and British alt/folk/rocker Billy Bragg. The book was published mid-April in beautifully-illustrated Kindle and paper editions. An audio edition will publish this June.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Edward Renehan serves as managing director of New Street Communications and its subsidiaries Dark Hall Press and New Street Nautical Audio. Renehan is the author of many books, including The Secret Six (Crown, 1995), The Lion's Pride (Oxford University Press, 1998), The Kennedys at War (Doubleday, 2002) and Dark Genius of Wall Street (Basic Books, 2006). His essays and reviews have appeared in such publications as the San Francisco Chronicle, Hearst's Veranda, and the Wall Street Journal. Renehan was close friends with Toshi and Pete Seeger for more than four decades.

For more information please contact publicist Monica Wister at the e-mail address below, or visit http://newstreetcommunications.com/general_interest/pete_...

You may also enjoy this vintage conversation between Seeger and journalist Robert MacNeil concerning the folksinger's case: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y0_IME9WsHQ

Kindle Edition: $9.99 / Paperback $15.00, 115 pages, 6x9

Paper ISBN-13: 978-0615998138

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Monica Wister
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Tags:Pete Seeger, Mccarthyism, Folk Music, Hudson Valley, Blacklists
Industry:Books, Publishing
Location:Newport - Rhode Island - United States
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