Pete Seeger and the blacklist

In reading about Pete Seeger on the web yesterday, I came across his testimony when he was hauled up before the House Un-American Affairs Committee in August 1955. This was the infamous Congressional committee that would order people to appear before them and quiz them about their political affiliations. If the people were willing to ‘prove their loyalty’ by renouncing their prior beliefs and associations and naming other people as being either Communists or fellow travellers or sympathizers, they would get lenient treatment. But if they did not, they would be accused of being pro-Communist. The committee targeted members of the entertainment industry, seeing them as being influential in shaping public opinion. Pete Seeger and his group The Weavers were blacklisted in the early 1950s. [Read more...]

Pete Seeger and Johnny Cash

The internet has been full of tributes to the great Pete Seeger who died earlier today. Here is one clip that I particularly liked where he appears with another of my favorite singers Johnny Cash. Together they sing a rousing version of It takes a worried man, getting the audience to join in, which is something that Seeger loved to do. He realized the power of music to bring people together and raise consciousness and that music was something you did, not just listened to. [Read more...]

Pete Seeger, 1919-2014

Pete Seeger died today. He was an American treasure, a powerful voice for justice and peace all throughout his long and colorful life, whose musical and political influence extended well beyond the borders of the USA. I had heard of Seeger and knew his songs growing up in Sri Lanka. This entry in Wikipedia captures the strength and consistency of the principles that drove him and his refusal to back down when asked to compromise those principles, even if it meant going to jail. [Read more...]

The lion sleeps tonight

This version by the popular duo Hippo and Dog never fails to make me smile.

Hippo Sings & Dog Dances to The Lion Sleeps Tonight from Cris Popenoe on Vimeo.

For some reason, I had always thought that this song was performed by a group of black singers from Africa or the Caribbean. Just shows that one should never jump to conclusions. The version we are most familiar with is the 1961 version by The Tokens.

But it turns out that I was not far off. The song was originally written and sung by South African Solomon Linda way back in 1939, but was later covered by many other singers, with The Tokens’ version gaining the most popularity in the west, especially after that version was used in the Disney animated film The Lion King.

Here are The Tokens performing it.

Ghost riders in the sky

The late great Johnny Cash takes his turn at interpreting a strange but fascinating song, arguably one of the best cowboy songs ever written. I remember loving it for its great rhythm whenever it came on the radio, but never listened carefully to the lyrics. I just did so and found them weird, but the song is still great. Here is a live performance from 1987 [Read more...]

The Ventures and drums

The Ventures were an instrumental rock group from the days of my youth who were known for their up-tempo, driving, pulsating beats that gave special prominence to drummers. They were one of the few purely instrumental rock bands that had an extended successful career, the British group The Shadows being another one.

Here are two examples. One is the tune Wipe Out. [Read more...]

Opera singing protesters

Portugal is one of those countries that decided that increased austerity for its people was the way to go in dealing with its financial crisis and the result has been massive hardship for many. This has led to protests outside parliament and other venues where prominent government leaders are assembled. A professional opera singer Ana Maria Pinto attended one such protest last October that took an unexpected turn. [Read more...]