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Charles Seeger

Charles Seeger
File:Charles Seeger.jpg
Charles Seeger
Background information
Birth name Charles Louis Seeger, Jr.
Born (1886-12-14)December 14, 1886
Mexico City
Died February 7, 1979(1979-02-07) (aged 92)
Bridgewater, Connecticut, United States
Occupation(s) Composer, musician, conductor, musicologist

Charles Louis Seeger, Jr. (December 14, 1886 – February 7, 1979) was a musicologist, composer, and teacher. He was the father of the American folk singer Pete Seeger (1919–2014).

Life and career

Seeger was born in Mexico City, Mexico, to American parents Elsie Simmons (née Adams) and Charles Louis Seeger. Seeger graduated from Harvard University in 1908, then studied in Cologne, Germany and conducted with the Cologne Opera.[1] Upon discovering a hearing impairment, he left Europe to take a position as Professor of Music at the University of California at Berkeley, where he taught from 1912 to 1916 before being dismissed for his public opposition to U.S. entry into World War I. His brother Alan Seeger was killed in action on July 4, 1916, while serving as a member of the French Foreign Legion. Charles Seeger then took a position at Juilliard before teaching at the Institute of Musical Art in New York from 1921 to 1933 and the New School for Social Research from 1931 to 1935. In 1936, he was in Washington, DC, working as a technical advisor to the Music Unit of the Special Skills Division of the Resettlement Administration (later renamed the Farm Security Administration).[2] From 1957 to 1961, he taught at the University of California Los Angeles. From 1961 to 1971 he was a research professor at the Institute of Ethnomusicology at UCLA. In 1949–50 he was Visiting Professor of the Theory of Music in the School of Music at Yale University. From 1935 to 1953 he held positions in the federal government's Resettlement Administration, Works Projects Administration (WPA), and Pan American Union, including serving as an administrator for the WPA's Federal Music Project, for which his wife also worked, from 1938 to 1940.


His first wife was Constance de Clyver Edson, a classical violinist and teacher; they divorced in 1927.[3] They had three sons, Charles III (1912–2002), who was an astronomer,[4] John (1914–2010), an educator,[5] and Pete (1919–2014), a folk singer. His second wife was the composer and musician Ruth Seeger (née Ruth Porter Crawford); by her, he had four children Mike Seeger (1933–2009), Peggy Seeger (b. 1935), and another two daughters, Barbara and Penny Seeger.[4] His grandson, Anthony Seeger (b. 1945), is an anthropologist and professor of ethnomusicology at the University of California Los Angeles, and Anthony's wife Judith Seeger is a senior tutor in the New Program and former assistant dean at St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland.[citation needed]


He is known, among other reasons, for his formulation of dissonant counterpoint.[6] According to the ethnomusicologist Bruno Nettl, "Seeger played a unique and central role in tying musicology to other disciplines and domains of culture. This collection shows him to be truly a musical 'man for all seasons,' for what comes across most is the many-sidedness of the man."[7]


  1. Capaldi, Jim, "Folk Scene: Charles Seeger" obituary April 1979
  2. Stone, Peter, Sidney and Henry Cowell, Association for Cultural Equity
  3. New York Times, December 19, 1911 wedding announcement.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Obituary: Charles Seeger III, San Francisco Chronicle, 14 September 2002. Retrieved on May 2, 2009.
  5. Seeger family crest and name history. Retrieved on June 21, 2009.
  6. Spilker, John D., "Substituting a New Order": Dissonant Counterpoint, Henry Cowell, and the network of ultra-modern composers, PhD dissertation, Florida State University, 2010.
  7. Bell Yung and Helen Rees, eds., Understanding Charles Seeger, Pioneer in Musicology (University of Illinois Press, 1999). (publisher's page on the book)

Further reading

External links

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