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Veteran of decades of folk music, Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame inductee, Harvard Arts medal winner, and Grammy Award winner for Best Traditional Folk Album (1996). US Library Of Congress named him a Living Legend in 2000. He is a national treasure of folk-lore.
Blacklisted in the USA’s McCarthy era of the 1950s when ‘reds under the beds’ were claimed to be a very real threat to the establishment, Seeger carried the torch of freedom for the labor movement, Civil Rights, peace and anti-war movements and environmentalism. He said; “Songs proliferate in prisons, they leap ethnic barriers”.
His biggest contribution to the civil rights movement was to adapt We Shall Overcome from a 19th century negro spiritual, and to make it the anthem of the protest movement.
Other, but less well known, folk-protest classics included Have You Been To Jail For Justice?, Dear Mr President and C For Conscription.
Tunes like Go Down, Moses; Michael; Steal Away; He’s Just the Same Today; No More Auction Block; O Freedom; John Brown’s Body; The Abolitionist Hymn; Lincoln and Liberty and The Underground Railcar all came out of the suffering endured by American slaves, many influenced by The Bible, but almost all in turn, filtering down the musical line to influence folk songs that followed.
The singer Odetta (1930-2008) was one of the best-known folk artists of the ‘50s and ‘60s, influencing Dylan, Baez and Janis Joplin among artists, and Rosa Parks, the black woman who famously refused to give up her bus seat for a white passenger.
Odetta’s powerful voice espoused the civil rights cause, honed in the deep South against the Depression, prison songs and work field songs. For her ‘folk songs were the anger’.
An English folk-rock band started in 1969 and still touring. Their biggest commercial successes were Gaudette and All Around My Hat. And lastly,Al Stewart, a Scottish singer-writer of the 1960s and ‘70s who developed his own style of combining folk with finely crafted stories of historical characters and events, and Year Of The Cat being his best-known.