Toshi Seeger's Life & Work
Toshi was born Toshi Aline Ohta on July 1, 1922, in Munich. Her grandffather was exiled from Japan for translating Marxist writings into Japanese. His father went into exile in his father's place (as was allowed under Japanese law at the time.) He met & married Toshi's mother in Germany. Toshi was raised in Greenwich Village and Woodstock.
Pete & Toshi basically grew up in the same "red diaper" circles in the New York City area. Their families shared many of the same friends. She met Pete in 1939 at a square dance in Manhattan at age 17. They married in 1943. In 1949 they bought a tract of undeveloped land on a slope above the Hudson River in Beacon NY. They built a log cabin with their own hands out of felled trees off their own property. Many of their mutual friends would travel to the land to assist them in the wood-felling and construction work. For the first several years they had no running water or electricity. They lived in the same tiny cabin until 1988 even though Pete was one of the best known musicians in the world!
Although Toshi was less widely known than Pete, his work would certainly have been impossible without her. She labored to raise their three children alone while Pete travelled the world working for peace and justice in his concerts. The whole family did take one memorable extended journey together around the world.
She travelled with him along with their 3 children, Danny, Mika & Tinya to Pete's hearings before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in Washington during the 1950s. Pete Seeger was cited for contempt of Congress. During the last year before his conviction was reversed they fully expected him to go to prison at any time so he worked every job he was offered and was hardly at home at all that year. When they finally dropped the conviction, Toshi commented: "Next time no appeals! Let him go to jail!"
In 1966, she produced the film, Afro-American Work Songs in a Texas Prison, which focused on the traditional songs sung by Texas prison inmates as they chopped down trees. From 1965 to 1966, Toshi produced and directed the public TV series, Rainbow Quest. Her official credited title for the show was "Chief Cook and Bottle Washer. Many well-known musicians appeared on the show including Johnny Cash. Episodes can now be viewed on youtube.
Toshi co-founded the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater with Pete in 1966. A few years later they began The Great Hudson River Revival, AKA the "Clearwater Festival". She was the musical director of the festival for many years. She insisted that the festival provide sign language interpreters for the deaf, accessbiility for those in wheelchairs and recycling when none of these were widely used in music festivals.
Toshi was the executive produced the 2007 PBS documentary, Pete Seeger: The Power of Song, which won an Emmy Award. She was 85 years old at the time of the documentary's production. She also was active in numerous civics and political organizations.
Toshi was a gutsy hard-working powerful woman who accomplished great things in her life. Pete consulted her constantly on decisions he was making about his career and work. Together they made the world a very different place than it would have been without them.
She died at home in July 2013.