If I were sure that more than 10 percent of National Review readers were fully aware of the range of contributions to music by Pete Seeger — his reputation as a musician, composer, and singer — I could comfortably believe that the brief indictment of his political activism in The Week (February 24), delineating his bias for Communism, would be viewed as a study in tragic contrasts. But I doubt that recognition of the complete Seeger is widespread. Like hundreds of other devotees of traditional and folk music, I listened to Seeger sing over the years, admiring his ability to enlist audience participation, such as in “Wimoweh.”
If his calling was activism, he did a lousy job. His preaching never made it to me, only his songs. I accept as true everything NR wrote about his questionable loyalties. As an American, I find his beliefs and his expression of those beliefs as reported by NR to be objectionable; his achievements as an entertainer do not excuse them. However, NR lost the opportunity to mention his contributions and the poignancy of a generation watching an enviable talent being tainted by an uninformed and wasteful obsession. Seeger gave us “Turn, Turn, Turn” and wrote the quintessential book on playing the five-string banjo, undoubtedly resulting in thousands of new banjo pluckers — and America is better for that. NR is no doubt aware of that side of Seeger, but he is labeled as a “force for bad.” Don’t overlook the gold in the rush to discard the dross. The write-up came across as merely a footnote to the fortunate passing of a subversive activist who also happened to sing.
Thousand Oaks, Calif.
Beauty for the Babes
Your February 24 cover story, Michael Knox Beran’s “The Age of the Ugly,” reminded me of something I heard at a librarians’ workshop in Topeka, Kan., in the 1970s.
Augusta Baker, an African-American storyteller for the New York Public Library system and co-author of the book Storytelling: Art and Technique, was the sole presenter at an in-service event for the Topeka public-school librarians. Ms. Baker started her career as a children’s librarian at the 135th Street branch of the New York Public Library in Harlem in the 1930s and ended up as the storytelling specialist for the whole system.
Besides her program of stories, she taught us valuable lessons about preparing the room. She said she always took care to have something beautiful for the children to look at during story hour, like a vase of fresh flowers on a table, because they so rarely saw beauty in the slums of New York where they lived.
Beran’s idea that “a people that has lost the taste of beauty will be stunted and incomplete” brought Augusta Baker back to my mind. She understood the need for beauty in the lives of children.
St. Francis, Kan.