Pete Seeger may be the most widely recognizable name in the Seeger family line, but he comes from a collection of remarkably talented folk music collectors, singers, players, and historians. Beginning with his father Charles, who was a scholar on the subject, on down through he and his siblings, to Pete's grandson Tao who is carrying on the torch for a younger generation. Learn more about the remarkable gift of the Seeger family with this introductory family tree.
Charles Seeger (1886-1979)
The patriarch of the Seeger family, Charles Seeger was a Harvard-educated music scholar, composer, music historian, and professor. While many musicologists of his day and age were focused on classical music and academic study, Charles Seeger developed a deep love and affection for indigenous music and the people who make it. He was one of the most prominent American musicologists to link the study of music with that of culture, effectively turning the field of American folk music into something of an academic pursuit. He taught at UC Berkeley, Julliard, the Institute of Musical Art in New York, the New School for Social Research, UCLA, and finally Yale University.
Ruth Crawford Seeger (1901-1953)
Ruth Crawford Seeger (Ruth Porter Crawford) was the second wife of Charles Seeger, and a musician and composer in her own right. Much like Charles, Ruth's original compositions were heavy on the use of atonal phrasing, dissonance, and irregular rhyhtms. She was born and raised in Ohio and attended the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago. She was the first woman to ever receive a Guggenheim Fellowship, and went to study in Paris and Berlin. She married Charles Seeger, a likeminded musicologist and composer, in 1932. She worked in Washington, DC, for a time with John and Alan Lomax, preserving American folk music for the Library of Congress. There, she became quite the champion of folk music, particularly folk music for children.
Pete Seeger is the third and youngest son of Charles Seeger's marriage to Constance Edson, a classical violinist. (The elder Seeger remarried and had four more children with Ruth Crawford Seeger. See above.) He started his professional life studying journalism at Harvard, before dropping out of school and eventually picking up the "family business" of folk music. Though he has played many instruments, Pete Seeger is mostly known as a banjo picker who published a definitive book on the instrument. His adaptation of traditional folk songs, his use of simple hymns and original songs for the purpose of social justice and community empowerment have helped define and influence American folk music in the 20th century and beyond.
Much like his parents, Mike Seeger developed an affinity for music early on, particularly an allegiance for traditional American music. He was a song collector and interpreter. More than anyone else in his family, Mike Seeger was hard-focused on delivering traditional American music while staying true to the original arrangements and intent. He was a multi-instrumentalist, mastering guitar, banjo, mandolin, fiddle, autoharp, dobro, and several other instruments. He started the New Lost City Ramblers in 1958 with John Cohen and Tom Paley. While other folk revivalists were trying to emulate Bob Dylan and other "updaters" of the craft, Seeger stuck to delivering old time music.
Peggy Seeger is one of three children to Charles and Ruth Crawford Seeger and a half-sibling of Pete. She picked up her mother's affinity for traditional American folk songs for children and recorded her first album (American Folk Songs for Children) in 1955. In the 1950s, after a trip to Communist China, Seeger's US passport was revoked and she was told she'd no longer be able to travel if she returned to the States. So, she instead moved to Europe where she met and fell in love with singer Ewan MacColl. They wouldn't marry for two more decades, but they made a number of records for the Folkways label.
David Gans/creative commons
Tao Rodriguez-Seeger is the grandson of Pete Seeger and was a founding member of the topical folk band the Mammals. By the time he was a teenager, Tao was performing regularly with his grandfather and later formed a band called RIG with Sarah Lee Guthrie (Woody's granddaughter) and Johnny Irion (a grand-nephew of John Steinbeck). He also recorded a Spanish-language album with Puerto Rican folksingers Roy Brown and Tito Auger (of Fiel a la Vega), among other projects. He's recorded eight albums in all, as of mid-2012, and continues to perform now and again with Pete Seeger.