Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Just a Damn Banjo-Picker

Here's full transcript of Pete Seeger's appearance before the Red-hunters of HUAC in 1955, when he refused to cooperate, politely, and was sentenced to a year in jail for contempt.  When asked what he did for a living he replied:  "Well, I have worked at many things, and my main profession is a student of American folklore, and I make my living as a banjo picker—sort of damning, in some people’s opinion." I love this:
MR. TAVENNER: Mr. Seeger, prior to your entry in the service in 1942, were you engaged in the practice of your profession in the area of New York?
MR. SEEGER: It is hard to call it a profession. I kind of drifted into it and I never intended to be a musician, and I am glad I am one now, and it is a very honorable profession, but when I started out actually I wanted to be a newspaperman, and when I left school --
CHAIRMAN WALTER: Will you answer the question, please?
MR. SEEGER: I have to explain that it really wasn't my profession, I picked up a little change in it.
CHAIRMAN WALTER: Did you practice your profession?
MR. SEEGER: I sang for people, yes, before World War II, and I also did as early as 1925.
But, of course, his key statement was:
I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this. I would be very glad to tell you my life if you want to hear of it.
 He did offer to sing them any song, adding:
I have sung for Americans of every political persuasion, and I am proud that I never refuse to sing to an audience, no matter what religion or color of their skin, or situation in life. I have sung in hobo jungles, and I have sung for the Rockefellers, and I am proud that I have never refused to sing for anybody. That is the only answer I can give along that line.
But later:
I decline to discuss, under compulsion, where I have sung, and who has sung my songs, and who else has sung with me, and the people I have known. I love my country very dearly, and I greatly resent this implication that some of the places that I have sung and some of the people that I have known, and some of my opinions, whether they are religious or philosophical, or I might be a vegetarian, make me any less of an American. I will tell you about my songs, but I am not interested in telling you who wrote them, and I will tell you about my songs, and I am not interested in who listened to them.

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