Mike Seeger, American Folk Revivalist and Historian
By Jeff Place
This article originally appeared as an Artist Spotlight on the Smithsonian Folkways Recordings website.
"Old-time rural music remains at the center of my life. It's a tactile, emotional, aural pleasure — the words are my Shakespeare and my mysteries, the music is my Bach, my pastime, and it makes me want to dance... Classic, timeless qualities in this music endure. For me, there ain't no way out but nature, and I'll make the most of it."
— Mike Seeger (from the liner notes to the 1997 album There Ain't No Way Out by The New Lost City Ramblers)
Mike Seeger, who devoted his life to documenting, teaching, keeping alive, and carrying forth the sounds of traditional music of the American South, died from cancer August 7th, 2009 at the age of 75.
Almost more than any other individual in the last sixty years, Mike Seeger (1933–2009) was a crusader for documenting, teaching, keeping alive, and carrying forth the sounds of traditional music of the American South. A singer and proficient instrumentalist, Seeger learned to play banjo, fiddle, guitar, Jew's harp, harmonica, quills, dulcimer, mandolin, and autoharp. As a musician he recorded extensively, with a rich discography on Folkways Records and Smithsonian Folkways Recordings as a solo artist and also as a member of the folk revival ensemble The New Lost City Ramblers. As a collector he captured the sounds of such seminal artists as Elizabeth Cotten and Dock Boggs, and he edited and compiled collections of material by many others, both obscure and well known. And finally, as a historian and preservationist of the music he called "old time," Mike Seeger told the stories behind the music that is an essential part of American culture.