Cindy: I miss having Pete Seeger in this world, but I’m happy to have Anita Silvey’s new middle-grade biography, Let Your Voice Be Heard: The Life and Times of Pete Seeger (2016), to bring the folk singer’s story to budding young activists.
The book opens with a horrifying description of violence at a concert towards African American singer Paul Robeson and other performers, including Seeger and his family. In just a few paragraphs, Silvey encapsulates so much about the activist’s life and times. Nothing would keep Pete Seeger from singing, or from peacefully working to improve the world.
This book is for a younger audience than Elizabeth Partridge’s This Land Was Made for You and Me, a biography of Pete’s mentor Woody Guthrie. Silvey does an excellent job explaining the history and context of Seeger’s major challenges, like his showdown with the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1955.
“This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender.”
Like Woody, who inscribed his guitar with “This machine kills fascists,” Seeger wrote “This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender” on his banjo. Pete, I miss you, and I’m so grateful for all you did, and the activism that you spread. Love will win.
Lynn: Like Cindy, one of the things I admire most about this book is the excellent way Silvey provides the background readers need in order to understand just how important Seeger’s life was to so many things—from preserving folk music, to protecting worker’s rights, to conserving the environment. The mid-20th century was a complicated time, and Silvey makes it understandable without losing focus on Seeger’s role.
She provides careful documentation in excellent source notes, and the extensive bibliography lists additional resources for those who might want more information. Well-chosen photographs round out this wonderful book.
Like Silvey, I admire Pete Seeger for so many things, especially his courage to stand up for what he thought was right at whatever the personal cost. In a time when loud voices in the news speak of hate and exclusion, I hope young readers will be inspired by a man who used his voice and his music to bring people together.