Stand Up and Sing! Pete Seeger, Folk Music and the Path to Justice written by Susanna Reich and illustrated by Adam Gustavson is a superb introduction to the life of a great man with a lifelong commitment to human rights. Stand Up and Sing! is also a valuable book to have now, in a time where injustices and opressions are escalating.
Peter Yarrow's introduction to Stand Up and Sing! is an important starting place. While readers might know little about being blacklisted, the civil rights movement and the Anti-Vietnam War Movement and might have never heard of Yarrow's folk trio, these of his words will speak to young readers. Of Seeger, Yarrow writes,
He was, in a word, the embodiment of courage in the face of great evil. Yet, astonishingly, his love of humankind and his creative personal light continued to grow brighter and brighter through the years.
Reich begins Stand Up and Sing! with Pete on stage, singing and playing banjo to a crowd, leading them in song. She then details his young life, growing up in a house full of instruments in a family that loved music. The Depression and the "near empty cupboards at home" affected Pete, as did the hunger, homelessness and poverty that he saw everywhere in New York City. With his father, he marched in parades for workers and listened to folk singers share protest songs. He saved his money and bought his first banjo, practicing each day starting at the crack of dawn. Seeger worked for family friend, the great American musicologist Alan Lomax, and he toured with Woody Guthrie. As part of the Almanac Singers, Seeger got his first experience performing for huge crowds, from autoworkers in Detroit to longshoremen in San Francisco.
Seeger experienced violence in his fight for civil rights, cementing two of the many rocks that were thrown at and into his car into his fireplace as a reminder of, "how important it was to stand up for his beliefs - and to never stop singing." Seeger's blacklisting and its effect on his ability to earn an income, as well as his continued participation in the civil rights movement - he introduced Martin Luther King Jr. to the song, "We Shall Overcome," and he and his wife were part of the march from Selma to Montgomery - are a major part of his story. Reich closes out Stand Up and Sing! with the building of the sloop Clearwater, although she only refers to the Clearwater music and environment festival for the Hudson River started in 1966 by Pete and his wife, Toshi, in her author's note.
In this age of YouTube, Facebook, memes, hastags and a 24 hour news cycle, the power of one man singing protest songs might seem hard to grasp for young readers and, as dynamic as Gustavson's illustrations are, it does seem like a challenge to get it on the page. But, this is also a time when people are organizing, resisting and speaking out against injustice more than ever. After reading Stand Up and Sing! (and not being a fan of folk music) I was curious to see if there was any protest music created during the presidential election of 2016 - and there is! From Moby, to Franz Ferdinand to Eminem and Arcade Fire, there are protest songs. I hope that readers will pick up this wonderful book and be inspired with even a fraction of the passion that Pete Seeger had for humanity.
Source: Review Copy