Tuesday, January 28, 2014

How Benjamin Britten backed Pete Seeger


Pete Seeger, who has died at the grand old age of 94, had a little-known connection with Benjamin Britten. In 1955 Seeger was convicted of contempt of Congress six years after he had appeared before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. After his conviction and before his successful appeal, Seeger obtained the court’s permission to tour England. In 1961 he played at London's Royal Albert Hall in a concert promoted by the British “Pete Seeger Committee” which had been formed to support the embattled musician; Paul Robeson was president, the great ballad singer Ewan MacColl was chairman, and the sponsors were Doris Lessing, Sean O’Casey and none other than Benjamin Britten. It is not known if Britten attended the London concert and the header image is a montage created by me for a 2012 post. But even though Seeger and Britten seem an unlikely duo there is a music connection: Britten set and Seeger recorded the folk song The Water is Wide, also known as O Waly, Waly. More on that 1961 Pete Seeger committee here and the story of his mother, the forgotten classical violinist and music teacher Constance de Clyver Edson is here.

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