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Mike Seeger

Aug. 15, 1933 - Aug. 7, 2009

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Mike Seeger stood out in a family of scholars and musical performers as an artist, advocate and teacher who helped regional figures such as Dock Boggs and Maybelle Carter reach a broad audience. Photograph by mandoliniment on Flickr, released under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Mike Seeger, photograph by Eli Smith on Flickr, licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
Mike Seeger, photograph by Scope Guzman on Flickr, released under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Mike Seeger, photograph by Scope Guzman on Flickr, released under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Mike Seeger, photograph by Jim McGuire, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Mike Seeger was born in New York City into a family of musicians and scholars. His parents, Charles and Ruth Crawford Seeger, were ethnomusicologists and composers. Mike Seeger’s sister Peggy and half-brother Pete became prominent singers and social activists. Mike Seeger devoted his life to performing and documenting the music of the rural South, which he called the “true vine” of American music.

Growing up in Washington, D.C., where his father was employed by the Works Progress Administration, Mike Seeger was surrounded by music and progressive politics. The family sang together and regularly hosted musical gatherings. “Exciting people ware always dropping in,” Peggy Seeger said. “Lead Belly, Woody Guthrie, John Jacob Niles, Bess [Lomax] Hawes, Henry and Sidney Cowell, John and Alan Lomax, Lee Hays, composers and writers ... and, of course, beloved Pete, our tall, exotic half-brother, with his long, long-necked banjo and his big, big feet stamping at the end of his long, long legs.”

Mike Seeger recorded the traditional ballad “Barbara Allen” when he was 5, his wife, Alexia Smith, said after his death. He and Peggy found that a family employee, Elizabeth “Libba” Cotten, was a guitarist and singer who had written the songs “Freight Train” and “Shake Sugaree,” and, with the family’s encouragement, she became a popular performer.

Starting in the early 1950s, Mike Seeger extensively documented and recorded traditional music and promoted performers such as Dock Boggs, Hazel Dickens, Maybelle Carter, Kilby Snow and Sam and Kirk McGee. He mastered a number of instruments, including the guitar, banjo, autoharp, fiddle and mandolin, and performed regularly, solo or with others, including the group he co-founded, the New Lost City Ramblers. The Ramblers often brought older players onstage with them. Seeger was frequently called upon as a consultant for such institutions as the Smithsonian Folklife Festival and the Newport Folk Festival. He served as the director of the American Old Time Music Festival and the Smithsonian American Folklife Company and won numerous awards and honors, including six Grammy nominations. He played autoharp on Raising Sand, the 2007 Grammy-winning Rounder album by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss.

Seeger played a major role in the revival and recognition and traditional American music and inspired many younger performers, including Bob Dylan, who wrote of him fondly in his memoir.

The late Joe Wilson, another winner of the Bess Lomax Hawes NEA National Heritage Fellowship, said, “It was Mike who said to a generation of musicians, ‘Dig a little deeper.’ His contributions as an advocate of great artists who had been ignored will shine for generations to come; he is our teacher in inclusiveness, the one always willing to put others before himself, to say, ‘You need to hear this.’ ”

Bibliography
Dylan, Bob. Chronicles: Volume One. Simon & Schuster, 2005.
Seeger, Mike, John Cohen and Hally Wood. Old Time String Band Songbook. Oak Publications, New York, 1976.
Sisario, Ben. “Mike Seeger, Singer and Music Historian, Dies at 75.” The New York Times. August 10, 2009.

Discography
Plant, Robert, and Alison Krauss. Raising Sand. Rounder 478 0199 DH.
Seeger, Mike. Oldtime Country Music. Folkways FA 2325.
__________. Tipple, Loom and Rail: Songs of the Industrialization of the South. Folkways FH 5273.
__________. Mike Seeger. Vanguard VSD 79150.
__________. Music from True Vine. Mercury SRM 1-627.
__________. Second Annual Farewell Reunion. Mercury SRM 1-685.
__________. Fresh Oldtime String Band Music. Rounder 0262.
__________. Solo: Oldtime Country Music. Rounder 0278.
__________. Third Annual Farewell Reunion. Rounder 0313.
__________ with Paul Brown. Way Down in North Carolina. Rounder 0383.
__________. Southern Banjo Sounds. Smithsonian Folkways 40107.
__________. True Vine. Smithsonian Folkways 40136.
__________. Early Southern Guitar Sounds. Smithsonian Folkways 40157.
__________ with David Grisman and John Hartford. Retrograss David Grisman, John Hartford and Mike Seeger. Acoustic Disc ACD 37.
__________ with Peggy Seeger. Mike and Peggy Seeger. Argo DA 80.
__________ with Peggy and Penny Seeger. American Folksongs for Christmas with Peggy Seeger and members of their families. Rounder 8001.
__________ and family members. Animal Folksongs for Children and Other People: Penny, Barbara, Peggy & Mike Seeger, and their children. Rounder 8023.
__________ and Alice Gerrard. Alice Gerrard and Mike Seeger. 5-String Productions 5SP08003.
Strange Creek Singers. Strange Creek Singers. Arhoolie 9003.
__________. Autoharp (instructional CD). Homespun Tapes CDSEGAU01.
__________. Old-Time Country Mandolin (instructional CD). Homespun Tapes CDSEGOT01.
The New Lost City Ramblers. The New Lost City Ramblers: The Early Years, 1958-1962. Smithsonian Folkways SF 40036.
__________. The New Lost City Ramblers: Volume II, 1963-1973, Out Standing in Their Field. Smithsonian Folkways SFW 40040.
__________. There Ain’t No Way Out. Smithsonian Folkways SFW 40098.
__________. 50 Years: Where Do You Come From? Where Do You Go? SFW 40180, three-CD set includes SF 40036 and 40040.

Filmography
Mike Seeger: Fret ’n’ Fiddle (videotape). Vestapol 13008.
Homemade American Music (film), Aginsky Productions 1978.
The New Lost City Ramblers in Always Been a Rambler, a film by Yasha Aginsky 2009.
Talking Feet: Solo Southern Dance: Flatfoot, Buck and Tap, DVD and book, Smithsonian Folkways SF DV 48006.
Old-Time Banjo Styles with Etta Baker, Greg Hooven, Kirk Sutphin, Joe & Odell Thompson & Doc Watson. Homespun Tapes DVD-SEE-BJ21.
Southern Banjo Styles, Volume I. Homespun Tapes DVD-SB21.
Southern Banjo Styles, Volume II. Homespun Tapes DVD-SB22.
Southern Banjo Styles, Volume III. Homespoun Tapes DVD-SB23.
Guitar Styles of the Carter Family with Janette Carter. Homespun Tapes DVD-SEG-CF21.
Early Southern Guitar Styles. Homespun Tapes DVD-SG29.

Watch

Tribute to Mike Seeger, 2009 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Nicholas R. Spitzer interviews Mike Seeger's wife, Alexia Smith. Tribute to Mike Seeger, 2009 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts


Tribute to Mike Seeger, 2009 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Tribute to Mike Seeger, 2009 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts


Listen

Mike Seeger, 'I'm Crazy Over You,' Early Southern Guitar Sounds, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, 2007

Mike Seeger, 'John Henry,' Early Southern Guitar Sounds, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, 2007

Mike Seeger and Peggy Seeger, 'Cindy,' Fly Down Little Bird, Appleseed Records, 2011

Mike Seeger and Peggy Seeger, 'Jennie Jenkins,' Fly Down Little Bird, Appleseed Records, 2011

Mike Seeger, 'Ground Hog,' Solo: Oldtime Country Music, Rounder Select, 1992

Mike Seeger, 'We're Stole and Sold from Africa,' Solo: Oldtime Country Music, Rounder Select, 1992

Mike Seeger, 'Devil's Dream,' Southern Banjo Sounds, Rounder Select, 1992

Mike Seeger, 'Lady Gay,' Southern Banjo Sounds, Rounder Select, 1992