Mike Seeger

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Mike Seeger
Seeger in 1964
Seeger in 1964
Background information
Born(1933-08-15)August 15, 1933
New York City
OriginNew York City, New York, U.S.
DiedAugust 7, 2009(2009-08-07) (aged 75)
Lexington, Virginia, U.S.
  • Musician
  • singer

Mike Seeger (August 15, 1933 – August 7, 2009) was an American folk musician and folklorist. He was a distinctive singer and an accomplished musician who played autoharp, banjo, fiddle, dulcimer, guitar, mouth harp, mandolin, dobro, jaw harp, and pan pipes.[1][2] Seeger, a half-brother of Pete Seeger, produced more than 30 documentary recordings, and performed in more than 40 other recordings. He desired to make known the caretakers of culture that inspired and taught him.[3] He was posthumously inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame in 2018.[4]

Family and early life[edit]

Seeger was born in New York and grew up in Maryland and Washington D.C. His father, Charles Louis Seeger Jr., was a composer and pioneering ethnomusicologist, investigating both American folk and non-Western music. His mother, Ruth Crawford Seeger, was a composer.[5] His eldest half-brother, Charles Seeger III, was a radio astronomer, and his next older half-brother, John Seeger, taught for years at the Dalton School in Manhattan. His next older half brother was Pete Seeger. His uncle, Alan Seeger, the poet who wrote "I have a rendezvous with Death", was killed during the First World War. Seeger was a self-taught musician who began playing stringed instruments at the age of 18. He also sang Sacred Harp with British folk singer Ewan MacColl and his son, Calum. Seeger's sister Peggy Seeger, also a well-known folk performer, married MacColl, and his sister Penny wed John Cohen, a member of Mike's musical group, New Lost City Ramblers.[6]

The family moved to Washington D.C. in 1936 after his father's appointment to the music division of the Resettlement Administration. While in Washington D.C., Ruth Seeger worked closely with John and Alan Lomax at the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress to preserve and teach American folk music. Ruth Seeger's arrangements and interpretations of American Traditional folk songs in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s are well regarded.[citation needed]

Musical career[edit]

At about the age of 20, Mike Seeger began collecting songs by traditional musicians on a tape recorder.[1] Folk musicians such as Lead Belly, Woody Guthrie, John Jacob Niles, and others were frequent guests in the Seeger home.[1][7]

In 1958 he co-founded the New Lost City Ramblers, an old-time string band in New York City, during the Folk Revival. The other founding members included John Cohen and Tom Paley. Paley later left the group in 1962[8] and was replaced by Tracy Schwarz. The New Lost City Ramblers directly influenced countless musicians in subsequent years. The Ramblers distinguished themselves by focusing on the traditional playing styles they heard on old 78rpm records of musicians recorded during the 1920s and 1930s. Tracy was also in Mike's other band, Strange Creek Singers. So was Mike's former wife, Alice Gerrard. She was Alice Seeger in that band and sang and played guitar in it. The other people in Strange Creek Singers were bass player and singer Hazel Dickens and banjo player Lamar Grier. Mike sang and played guitar, banjo, fiddle, mandolin, autoharp, and harmonica in the band.

"Seeger sings with spunk and authenticity, plays eight acoustic instruments, and taps his foot pretty good, and even if you (and I) can't dance to it, I guarantee you somebody can."

Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies (1981)[9]

Seeger received six Grammy nominations and was the recipient of four grants from the National Endowment for the Arts,[1] including a 2009 National Heritage Fellowship, which is the United States government's highest honor in the folk and traditional arts.[10] His influence on the folk scene was described by Bob Dylan in his autobiography, Chronicles: Volume One. He was a popular presenter and performer at traditional music gatherings such as Breakin' Up Winter.

Eight days before his 76th birthday, Mike Seeger died at his home in Lexington, Virginia, on August 7, 2009, after stopping cancer treatment.[2][11]

The Mike Seeger Collection, which includes original sound and video recordings by Mike Seeger, is located in the Southern Folklife Collection of the Wilson Library of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.[12]


  • Old Time Country Music (Smithsonian Folkways) (1962)
  • Mike Seeger (Vanguard) (1964) [13]
  • Tipple, Loom & Rail (Smithsonian Folkways) (1965)
  • Mike and Peggy Seeger (Argo) (1966)
  • Mike and Alice Seeger in Concert (King (JP)) (1971)
  • Music From True Vine (Mercury) (1972)
  • Berkeley Farms (Folkways) (1972)
  • The Second Annual Farewell Reunion (Mercury) (1973)
  • American Folk Songs for Children (Rounder) (1977)
  • Alice Gerrard and Mike Seeger (Greenhays) (1980)
  • Fresh Oldtime String Band Music (Rounder) (1988)
  • American Folk Songs for Christmas (Rounder) (1989)
  • Solo: Oldtime Country Music (Rounder) (1991)
  • Animal Folk Songs for Children (Rounder) (1992)
  • Third Annual Farewell Reunion (Rounder) (1994)
  • Way Down in North Carolina (w/ Paul Brown) (Rounder) (1996)
  • Southern Banjo Sounds (Smithsonian Folkways) (1998)
  • Retrograss (w/ John Hartford and David Grisman) (Acoustic Disc) (1999)
  • True Vine (Smithsonian Folkways) (2003)
  • Early Southern Guitar Sounds (Smithsonian Folkways) (2007)
  • Robert Plant and Alison KraussRaising Sand (Rounder) (2007)
  • Ry CooderMy Name Is Buddy (Nonesuch) (2007)
  • Talking Feet (Book) Compiled with dancer Ruth Pershing (Consignment) (2007)
  • Talking Feet (DVD) (Smithsonian Folkways) (2007)
  • Bowling Green (w/ Alice Gerrard) (5-String Productions) (2008) (Re-release of Greenhays released in 1980)
  • Fly Down Little Bird (Appalseed) (2011)

Recordings with the New Lost City Ramblers[edit]

  • New Lost City Ramblers (Smithsonian Folkways) (1958)
  • Old Timey Songs for Children (Smithsonian Folkways) (1959)
  • Songs for the Depression (Smithsonian Folkways) (1959)
  • New Lost City Ramblers – Vol. 2 (Smithsonian Folkways) (1960)
  • Newport Folk Festival, 1960, Vol. 1 (Vanguard - VRS 9083) (1960)
  • New Lost City Ramblers – Vol. 3 (Smithsonian Folkways) (1961)
  • New Lost City Ramblers (Smithsonian Folkways) (1961)
  • New Lost City Ramblers – Vol. 4 (Smithsonian Folkways) (1962)
  • American Moonshine and Prohibition Songs (Smithsonian Folkways) (1962)
  • New Lost City Ramblers – Vol. 5 (Smithsonian Folkways) (1963)
  • Gone to the Country (Smithsonian Folkways) (1963)
  • String Band Instrumentals (Smithsonian Folkways) (1964)
  • Rural Delivery No. 1 (Smithsonian Folkways) (1964)
  • Modern Times (Smithsonian Folkways) (1968)
  • New Lost City Ramblers with Cousin Emmy (Smithsonian Folkways) (1968)
  • Remembrance of Things to Come (Smithsonian Folkways) (1973)
  • On the Great Divide (Smithsonian Folkways) (1975)
  • Earth is Earth (Smithsonian Folkways) (1978)
  • Tom Paley, John Cohen, Mike Seeger Sing Songs of the New Lost City Ramblers (Smithsonian Folkways) (1978)
  • 20th Anniversary Concert, with Elizabeth Cotten, Highwoods String Band, Pete Seeger & the Green Grass Cloggers (FLYING FISH (Rounder)) (1978)
  • The Early Years, 1958–1962 (Smithsonian Folkways) (1991)
  • Out Standing in their Field: The New Lost City Ramblers, Vol 2, 1963–1973 (Smithsonian Folkways) (1993)
  • There Ain't No Way Out (Smithsonian Folkways) (1997)
  • 40 Years of Concert Recordings (Rounder) (2001)
  • 50 Years: Where Do You Come From? Where Do You Go? (Smithsonian Folkways) (2008)

Recording with Strange Creek Singers[edit]

Selected films featuring Mike Seeger[edit]

  • Homemade American Music (1980) by Yasha Aginsky
  • Always Been a Rambler (2009) by Yasha Aginsky


  1. ^ a b c d "Mike Seeger: American folk revivalist and historian". Smithsonian Global Sound. Smithsonian Institution. 2007. Archived from the original on May 23, 2009. Retrieved August 8, 2009.
  2. ^ a b Brown, Paul (August 8, 2009). "Mike Seeger Cleared Paths, Showed Us The Way". NPR Music. National Public Radio. Retrieved August 9, 2009.
  3. ^ "Mike Seeger: Musician, Cultural Scholar, and Advocate". National Endowment for the Arts, National Heritage Fellowships. National Endowment for the Arts. 2009. Archived from the original on June 2, 2010. Retrieved August 8, 2009. Bess Lomax Hawes NEA National Heritage Fellowship
  4. ^ "Recipient History". International Bluegrass Music Association. 2023. Retrieved February 25, 2024.
  5. ^ 1911 New York Times wedding announcement for Charles Louis Seeger and Ruth Crawford Seeger.
  6. ^ A Vision Shared, Austin Chronicle, weeklywire.com, 18 August 1997. Retrieved on May 2, 2009.
  7. ^ "True Vine | Smithsonian Folkways". Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. Retrieved July 28, 2017.
  8. ^ Larkin, Colin (1993), The Guinness Who's Who of Folk Music, Guinness, ISBN 0-85112-741-X
  9. ^ Christgau, Robert (1981). "Consumer Guide '70s: S". Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies. Ticknor & Fields. ISBN 089919026X. Retrieved March 12, 2019 – via robertchristgau.com.
  10. ^ "NEA National Heritage Fellowships 2009". www.arts.gov. National Endowment for the Arts. Archived from the original on September 28, 2020. Retrieved January 16, 2021.
  11. ^ Brown, Paul (August 8, 2009). "Folk Music's Mike Seeger Dead". NPR Music. National Public Radio. Retrieved August 9, 2009.
  12. ^ "Mike Seeger Collection, 1923-2010 (bulk 1955-2002)". finding-aids.lib.unc.edu. Retrieved November 6, 2017.
  13. ^ Unterberger, Richie. Mike Seeger – Mike Seeger at AllMusic. Retrieved September 14, 2015.

External links[edit]