Tony Saletan

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Tony Saletan
Birth name Anthony D. Saletan
Born (1931-06-29) June 29, 1931 (age 87)
New York City, New York
Genres Folk
Occupation(s) Musician, singer, folk dance caller/leader
Instruments Vocals, guitar, banjo
Years active 1955–present
Labels Folk-Legacy Records, Prestige Records
Associated acts Pete Seeger, Peggy Seeger, Joe Hickerson, Kossoy Sisters

Anthony D. "Tony" Saletan is an American folk singer and educator, who is responsible for the modern rediscovery of two of the genre's best-known songs, Michael Row the Boat Ashore and Kumbaya. Born and raised in New York City, he attended the Walden School and received his bachelor's and master's degrees from Harvard University.[1] For a brief period during his childhood, Saletan's piano teacher was a young Leonard Bernstein.[1][2] He was involved as a teen in the Henry Wallace presidential campaign of 1948, in which original music in the folk style was important.[1] Saletan settled in the Boston area, where for several years he appeared on educational television (WGBH),[3] taught music in the Newton, Massachusetts public schools[1] and gave private guitar lessons. He also became involved in folk dancing and calling of contra dances.[4] Saletan has often taught at Pinewoods Camp, in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Later in life, Saletan moved to Tacoma, Washington.

Shaker Village Work Camp and the Folk Revival[edit]

Saletan spent the summer of 1953 at Buck’s Rock Work Camp leading the campers in regular folk song sessions.

In 1954, Tony Saletan was preparing to work as folksong leader at the Shaker Village Work Camp. He searched the Widener Library of Harvard University for material to teach the Villagers that summer. Out of that research, he adapted the song Michael Row the Boat Ashore from the 1867 songbook Slave Songs of the United States to create the version that is well-known today. "I judged that the tune was very singable, added some harmony (a guitar accompaniment) and thought the one-word chorus would be an easy hit with the teens (it was). But a typical original verse consisted of one line repeated once, and I thought a rhyme would be more interesting to the teenagers at Shaker Village Work Camp, where I introduced it. So I adapted traditional African-American couplets in place of the original verses."[5]

During the summer of 1954, Saletan taught Michael Row the Boat Ashore to Pete Seeger, who later sang it with the Weavers,[6][7][8] one of the most important singing groups leading the American folk music revival of the 1950s to mid-1960s.[9] Saletan's adaptation was included in the Village's 1956 songbook, Songs of Work.[10] A single based on Saletan's version was released in 1960 by the American folk quintet the Highwaymen under the abbreviated title, Michael,[11] and reached #1 on the U.S. and British hit parades in September 1961.[12]

Joe Hickerson, co-founder of the Folksmiths, credits Saletan for introducing him to the song Kumbaya in 1957 (Saletan had learned it from Lynn Rohrbough, co-proprietor with his wife Katherine of the camp songbook publisher Cooperative Recreation Service).[13][14][15] The first LP recording of Kumbaya was released in 1958 by the Folksmiths.[16] Folksinger Peggy Seeger was also taught several songs by Saletan, which she later recorded.[17]

Television and recording career[edit]

Saletan was the first person to appear on WGBH, Channel 2, when Boston's public educational television station made its on-air debut on May 2, 1955.[18] He sang the theme song for Come and See, a program aimed at pre-schoolers.[19] Following a 1959-1960 world tour sponsored by the U.S. State Department,[1] Saletan released the album I'm a Stranger Here on Prestige Records (1961 or 1962).[20] On his return from abroad, he created Sing, Children, Sing for national distribution on educational television, based on an earlier WGBH project, Music Grade II.[21] In the 1960s, Saletan also hosted several episodes of What's New, broadcast "field trips" to historic locations with associated songs.[22]

During their marriage, Saletan and Irene Kossoy (formerly and subsequently of the Kossoy Sisters) performed together as Tony and Irene Saletan. In 1970, they released an album on Folk-Legacy Records, Tony and Irene Saletan: Folk Songs and Ballads. Tony and Irene performed together at the Fox Hollow Folk Festival in 1971,[23] as well as with Irene's sister, Ellen, and Ellen's then husband, Robin Christenson.[24]

On December 16, 1969, Saletan made a guest appearance during the first season of Sesame Street, the iconic children's television program. In the first of four segments on which he appeared, Saletan led the show's children and adult regulars (including Big Bird and Oscar) in an adaptation of the traditional workers' alphabet song, "So Merry, So Merry Are We," as well as a traditional counting song, "Ten Little Angels."[25] In the second, he sings and takes ideas from the children to invent new verses for "I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground," and then plays "Cripple Creek" on banjo as Gordon demonstrates the limberjack. In the third segment he sings Woody Guthrie's "Pick it Up," and then "Mi Chacra" ("my farm"), teaching animal names in Spanish. Saletan concludes the show with Guthrie's "Gonna Take Everybody (All Work Together)."

In the early 1970s, he hosted three public television series for children, produced by Western Instructional Television (Hollywood, California): The Song Bag, Let's All Sing with Tony Saletan and Singing Down the Road.[3] Two record albums were issued from these shows[26] mostly drawn from American folksongs, including those discovered and developed for teaching young Shaker Villagers.[27] The first album to emerge from the WIT shows, Song Bag with Tony Saletan, likewise had an associated teacher's guide and songbook.[28] Saletan also recorded Songs and Sounds of the Sea (National Geographic Society 1973), Revolutionary Tea (with the Yankee Tunesmiths, Old North Bridge Records 1975), and George & Ruth (songs of the Spanish Civil War, Educational Alternatives 2004).


  • I'm a Stranger Here (1961)
  • Folksongs & Ballads (with Irene Saletan) (1970) Many cuts available on YouTube
  • Songs and Sounds of the Sea (1973)
  • Song Bag with Tony Saletan (1974)
  • Revolutionary Tea (1975)
  • Let's All Sing with Tony Saletan (1976) Episode available for viewing on YouTube
  • George & Ruth (2004)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Lawless 1960.
  2. ^ Burton,Humphrey (1994). Leonard Bernstein. New York: Doubleday, p. 108
  3. ^ a b Tony Saletan. WGBH Alumni 2000.
  4. ^ NEFFA, 2011. "Merry Go Round". YouTube. dgonz33. Retrieved July 27, 2014.
  5. ^ Saletan 2000.
  6. ^ Seeger 2010.
  7. ^ Hays 1960, pp. 40–41.
  8. ^ American Folklife Center 1968.
  9. ^ Eyerman 1996.
  10. ^ Shaker Village Work Camp 1954.
  11. ^ Whitburn 1994.
  12. ^ "The Highwaymen: Biography", AllMusic.
  13. ^ Weiss 2006.
  14. ^ Stern 2009.
  15. ^ Amy 1957.
  16. ^ Folksmiths 1958. Liner notes.
  17. ^ Seeger 2009.
  18. ^ "WGBH Timeline (1946-1978)". WGBH Educational Foundation. January 1, 2007. Retrieved July 28, 2018.
  19. ^ McGlinchey, Nina (2 May 2015). "Tony Saletan at WGBH 60-Year Reunion". YouTube. Retrieved 28 July 2018.
  20. ^ Jazz Discography Project
  21. ^ Saletan, Tony. "From Tony Saletan (2000)". WGBH: Profiles. WGBH Alumni. Retrieved 30 July 2018.
  22. ^ Saletan, Tony. "From Tony Saletan (2000)". WGBH: Profiles. WGBH Alumni. Retrieved 30 July 2018.
  23. ^ Fox Hollow, 1971. "Friend to the Working Man". YouTube. David Usher. Retrieved July 27, 2014.
  24. ^ Fox Hollow, 1971. "Belle Starr". YouTube. David Usher. Retrieved July 27, 2014.
  25. ^ "Classic Sesame Street - Tony Saletan". YouTube. BigMuppetFan51. 9 March 2018. Retrieved July 28, 2018.
  26. ^ Saletan 1976.
  27. ^ Saletan, Tony. "From Tony Saletan (2000)". WGBH: Profiles. WGBH Alumni. Retrieved 30 July 2018.
  28. ^ Saletan 1974.


External links[edit]

  1. ^ Seeger, Pete (1961). American Favorite Ballads. New York, NY: Oak Publications. p. 75. Retrieved 2 January 2018.