From the 1930s through the 1960s, the FBI, the CIA, and other agencies conducted surveillance on folk musicians and folklorists organizing folksong revivals. As a result of a successful lawsuit filed under the Freedom of Information Act, it is now possible to see the extent of that surveillance, and how it affected the fields of folklore and oral history.
It is no understatement to say that the FBI, and its director, J. Edgar Hoover, did not like folk music or its singers. Over and over again, agents were sent to spy on hootenannies with the explicit intention of disrupting them. In fact, we now know that the US intelligence community mounted a sort of “Hootenanny Squad” to disrupt and suppress those they identified as perfidious banjo-pluckers and guitar-players.
After a six-year battle with the FBI, David Dunaway finally succeeded in having hundreds of documents declassified. In this presentation, Dunaway revealed the “secrets” the FBI collected and how American folk singer and social activist Pete Seeger led the way in triumphing over their efforts. The evening ended with a “Sing Along with Pete” (through his recordings). The audience was asked to bring a healthy skepticism for government investigations of the arts, and their singing voices.