Pete Seeger: To Hear Your Banjo Play (1946)

This past week­end, Pete Seeger marched through the streets of Man­hat­tan with the Occu­py Wall Street move­ment. He was a sprite­ly 92. It was the lat­est in a life­time of polit­i­cal engage­ment by Seeger, dat­ing all the way back to his youth­ful sup­port of the Span­ish Civ­il War. Today we bring you a film of Seeger when he was only 27 years old: To Hear Your Ban­jo Play. Released in 1946, To Hear Your Ban­jo Play is an engag­ing 16-minute intro­duc­tion to Amer­i­can folk music, writ­ten and nar­rat­ed by Alan Lomax and fea­tur­ing rare per­for­mances by Woody Guthrie, Bald­win Hawes, Son­ny Ter­ry, Brownee McGhee, Texas Glad­den and Mar­got May­o’s Amer­i­can Square Dance Group. To Hear Your Ban­jo Play is includ­ed in our col­lec­tion, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Leg­endary Folk­lorist Alan Lomax’s ‘The Land Where the Blues Began’

Pete Seeger Teach­es You How to Play Gui­tar for Free in The Folksinger’s Gui­tar Guide (1955

The Pow­er­ful Mes­sages That Woody Guthrie & Pete Seeger Inscribed on Their Gui­tar & Ban­jo: “This Machine Kills Fas­cists” and “This Machine Sur­rounds Hate and Forces it to Sur­ren­der”

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Comments (7)
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  • I shot Pete in 1977 when he played in White Springs, FL. He was about 60 and I was about 30. At the time, I thought he looked old. Today, I look at the pho­tos and think, “Gee, Pete sure looked young in those days.”

    See­ing his as a REAL young man is a treat.

  • Eva Lazaar (Cohen) says:

    For always — my strength to fight for and believe in democ­ra­cy — every­one has a right to com­pro­mise! — Liv­ing togeth­er — in peace — no one over anoth­er, accept­ing major­i­ty

  • guy quate says:

    I was just watch­ing on net­flix „The Pete Seeger, pro­gram on his show he had John­ny Cash ‚June Carter and Roscoe Hol­comb great show

  • Stephen Becker says:

    Thanks a‑plenty for post­ing this great lit­tle gem by Lomax with “real folk” folk singers and the tnen new folk song­writ­ers (Woody) and the folk song revival folk singers (Pete Seeger). The “script” cooked up is ama­teur­ish and fun, but the song and dance are true time cap­sules of what some today might say are the grand­par­ents and great grand par­ents of the lat­est thing, “Amer­i­cana.” Lomax was a true Amer­i­can hero, lug­ging around those mon­ster record­ing machines, and try­ing every kind of record­ing tech­nol­o­gy from sound to motion pictures…He and his father nev­er have got­ten recog­ni­tion for all they did, from Lead­bel­ly to Woody, prison gang work songs to square dance callers.….Pete’s still goin’, and so is Ram­bling Jack, and so is that con­tro­ver­sial Zim­mer­man kid who got to meet his hero Woody, as he lay dying in that hos­pi­tal room.

  • Miriam says:

    My father, Lou Rosen­blum, appears in the film in the dance sequence danc­ing (I believe) with Mar­got Mayo. He is now 90 years old. Are any oth­er dancers, who were mem­bers of the Amer­i­can Square Dance Group in NYC, still around? I (and my father) would love to know and hear from you!

  • Ron Turner says:

    Hel­lo Lou,
    I danced in Mar­got May­o’s group. I was 17 when the film was made. I had a hard time iden­ti­fy­ing myself — let alone any­body else. I accom­pa­nied the group on the piano occa­sion­al­ly. Those were good days — filled with the vig­or of youth and a pow­er­ful ide­al­ism. I live in Seat­tle now — spent most of my life around Philadel­phia.
    My best

  • Miriam says:

    Ron — This is Miri­am Rosen­blum, Lou Rosen­blum’s daugh­ter. Glad to hear from anoth­er alum­nus of the Amer­i­can Square Dance Group of the 1940’s. I will be in Seat­tle Feb 14–18. Can we be in touch?

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.