Growing up in a home
filled with great music
and wonderful stories
Pete grows up in a musical family.
In his childhood home just north of New York City, Pete Seeger found musical instruments in just about every room of his house. Pete grew up in a music loving family. Pete's mom and dad, Constance and Charles, were both musicians. They each studied classical music in college. Constance was a concert violinist and a music teacher. Charles was a composer and "musicologist". That means he researched the world's great variety of music and studied the many ways music is important in people's lives.
Great bedtime stories
Charles Seeger was a great storyteller. One of Pete's favorite stories was inspired by a song about a foolish frog. His dad liked to retell the true story of when the whole family went on a car camping trip to share their classical music with ordinary folks in the countryside. Pete was just a toddler when they traveled to Pinehurst, North Carolina. Charles and Constance performed their refined violin and pump organ music for their host family. The farmer's family listened, then picked up their own instruments and played banjo and fiddle tunes for their city guests. The delightful sound of this farming family playing their old timey music impressed Charles Seeger. Growing up, Pete heard this story told and retold many times.
Young Pete Seeger plays the ukulele.
Early on, of all the musical instruments Mom and Dad left out around their home, Pete had the most fun learning to play the ukulele. He began playing popular tunes and enjoyed accompanying the stories he shared with his school mates.
Many years later Pete would give a ukulele to the young hero in the Abiyoyo bedtime story he makes up for his own children.
A tall tale about a giant cabbage.
When he was eight years old, upon discovering that cabbages will float in water, Pete made up his own original story for the first time. He imagined a boy who grew a giant cabbage. This boy rolls his giant vegetable into the river, turns it into a sail boat and takes a trip all around the world. The boy calls out "Hello!" to people in every country along the route of his journey. He arrives back home and becomes famous far and wide. Pete's school mates asked him to tell his ridiculous tall tale again and again. Eventually, Pete and Michael Hays developed sketches for a Head of Cabbage picture book, but this work remains unpublished.
The sound of the 5-string banjo.
Pete had turned 17 years old by the time he and his dad traveled to North Carolina again, this time with Ruth Crawford Seeger, Pete's stepmom. There, Pete heard the sound of 5-string banjo. Groups of musicians gathering at the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival performed a traditional style of music popular in their small mountain communities. He listened intently. Maybe he heard the echo of an early childhood memory. This music festival started Pete on a path he followed his whole long life. Pete learned his first banjo "frailing" strums that night at the festival and for the next several years worked at learning to play the 5-string banjo.
Bringing mountain music to city folk.
Pete already loved stories and music. Now Pete had found his instrument–a little machine that would one day ring out around the world. When he was 29 years old, Pete published the first edition of his instruction manual, How to Play the Five-String Banjo. From it's origins in Africa, the banjo survived a journey across the Atlantic Ocean. Memories of it's syncopated rythym soon accompanied footsteps along rural country roads in the American South. Banjo music passed along the songs and stories of folks nearly forgotten, soon to be re-discovered in the big city.