Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b 15 August 1933, NYC; d 7 August 2009, Lexington VA) Folksinger, instrumentalist, producer. His parents were musicologist Charles and composer turned song-editor and piano teacher Ruth Crawford Seeger (her String Quartet of 1931 is a particularly fine piece of contemporary American music). Mike Seeger's younger sister is Peggy, who was married to Ewan MacColl; his older half-brother is Pete Seeger.

He played the autoharp at twelve, got serious at 18 and took up a dozen stringed instruments. He played with Peggy in square dance bands; working in a Baltimore hospital as a conscientious objector '54 he discovered country and bluegrass; he formed the New Lost City Ramblers '58 with John Cohen (b 2 August 1932; d 16 September 2019) and Tom Paley (b 19 March 1928; d 30 September 2017) to re-create traditional music and began recording for Folkways. He also made field recordings for the label by the Stoneman Family, Libba Cotten, Sam and Kirk McGee etc. The Ramblers performed at the first Newport Folk Festival; Tracy Schwartz joined '62 and Paley left; the group played more country music. He formed the Strange Creek Singers late '60s with Alice Gerrard (married her '70), Hazel Dickens, Lamar Grier and Schwartz; they made an LP on Arhoolie. (Dickens was a feminist bluegrass pioneer from West Virginia [b 1 June 1935, d 22 April 2011]; she also recorded with Seeger's wife as Hazel & Alice.)

Mike Seeger was a trustee of the Newport Folk Festival '63-71, on the board of directors of the National Folk Festival, Washington DC, and the Southern Folk Revival Cultural Project in Atlanta etc; by the late '70s he had made nearly 50 albums, five with Peggy including songs collected by their mother. Albums by the Ramblers on Folkways included collections The Depression, Moonshine And Prohibition, Rural Delivery No. 1 etc, and two-disc 20 Years: Concert Performances on Flying Fish; solo albums Old Time Country Music on Folkways, Music From The True Vine and Second Annual Farewell Reunion mid-'70s on Mercury with many friends including Pete. Others on Argo, Rounder, Vanguard; Old Time Music Dance Party '87 on Flying Fish is by A. Robic and the Exertions. More recent issues on Rounder include Fresh Oldtime String Band Music and 3rd Annual Farewell Reunion with Maria Muldaur, Bob Dylan etc.

Mike Seeger was very highly praised by Dylan in Martin Scorsese's documentary film No Direction Home in 2005 as a performer who got so far inside folk music that Dylan knew he couldn't compete with that and had to go and do something else. The indefatigable Seeger was still touring the USA in 2005. Music From The True Vine: Mike Seeger's Life & Musical Journey by Bill C. Malone, published in 2011 by the U. of North Carolina Press, is an 'excellent and affectionate biography' according to Lou Glandfield in the Times Literary Supplement. Malone was quoted by Barry Mazor in the Wall Street Journal: Malone, from Texas, found him hard to get to know and was suspicious of Northern folkies playing country music, but then realized that "While I was listening to the Grand Ole Opry on our Philco battery radio, back in the late 1930s, [Mike] was sitting on the floor and listening to the field recordings that his mother was transcribing for John Lomax, and that his daddy's assistants had collected, and to Library of Congress records [...] He didn't just take the music and run with it for his own purposes; he made us aware of the people who had made this music in the first place".