Magic Penny Award

2015: Pete Seeger (May 3, 1919 – January 27, 2014)

We are pleased to announce that the Magic Penny Award recipient for 2015 is Pete Seeger. The Magic Penny Award is given to people who have demonstrated lifetime achievement in Children’s Music. During his lifetime, Pete Seeger did not like to be singled out for awards, so we had to be certain that his family wanted this honor. Not only are they proud to accept the award, but Pete’s daughter Tinya will be on hand to accept it in person at the International Children’s Music Network Conference in October 2015.

Pete Seeger accomplished so much in his lifetime that it is impossible to list it all here. We will focus especially on his work with children, knowing that without Pete, much of the kind of work CMN members do would not exist.

Pete Seeger grew up in a musical family, so it’s not surprising that he became a musician. In the late 1930’s he traveled the country as an itinerant folk singer where he met Woody Guthrie and Lead Belly, and developed a vast repertoire of traditional and new folk songs. In the late 40’s Seeger formed The Weavers with Lee Hays, Ronnie Gilbert and Fred Hellerman. They became very popular, with hit songs such as “On Top of Old Smokey” and “Goodnight Irene.”

In 1955, the House Un-American Activities Committee began investigating Seeger, accusing him of ties to the Communist Party. Seeger discussed his music, and sang songs, but declined to answer questions about his political activities or to “name names”. He and the other members of the Weavers were subsequently blacklisted.

From the late 1950’s through the early 60’s, Pete was prohibited from performing in large halls, so he traveled to universities, elementary schools, camps and churches. He sang songs and told stories to a generation of children that grew up to play a large part in the folk revival, and some became children’s musicians. His songs were sung in music classes across the country and because of Pete, many people learned his original songs like “If I Had a Hammer” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” traditional songs like “Skip to my Lou” and songs by others such as Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land.” One of his overarching goals was to get as many people singing as possible, and this he accomplished!

In 1969, Pete organized the sloop Clearwater, to conduct science-based environmental education aboard a sailing ship. Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Inc. has been instrumental in helping clean up the Hudson River, setting a standard for environmental education and youth empowerment programs, and connecting it all with music. Pete Seeger has always believed that music and the arts are a powerful way to inform and inspire the next generation, and Clearwater works to promote the cause of environmental activism through music.

Throughout his life, Pete Seeger loved singing with children, and particularly children’s choirs. In 2010 at the age of 91, Seeger released the album “Tomorrow’s Children” recorded with a group of students and dedicated to environmental awareness. He won a Grammy Award for best musical album for children.

Pete Seeger was a strong advocate of the Children’s Music Network. He attended several conferences, gave keynotes, and participated in the programs. In 2004 he donated money to CMN to the scholarship fund to support diversity, and help people attend who otherwise might not be able to afford the conference. Today, the fund is called the Pete Seeger Scholarship Fund, and many people have benefitted from his generosity.

Pete Seeger died on January 27th, 2014 at the age of 94. We are grateful for his untiring work on behalf of children, civil rights, peace, the environment, and spreading his love of singing to many generations. We look forward to honoring him at the Magic Penny Award Ceremony at the CMN Conference on Oct. 16-18, 2015 in Zion, IL.

Pete Seeger (2015)

Photo: Presenting the awardPhoto: 2012 Magic Penny awardPhoto: 2012 Magic Penny awardPhotos by Jenny Heitler-Klevans

Pete's daughter Tinya was present to accept the award in his name.

Carving by: Gordon Bok