The 2009 Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize
Hunts Point Riverside Park, South Bronx
It is my desire to give the recipients of the prize the recognition they deserve,
to bring attention to their contributions to society and encourage others to follow in their path Lillian Gish
My job is to show folks theres a lot of good music in this world, and if used right,
it may help to save the planet. Pete Seeger, 2009 Gish Prize Recipient
New York, NYFolk musician and environmental activist Pete Seeger will be presented with one of the largest awards in the arts The Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prizeat a special outdoor tribute on Thursday, September 3, 2009. The tribute will take place in the newly-revitalized Hunts Point Riverside Park, South Bronx, in partnership with Rocking the Boat. Seeger, who supports Rocking the Boat, will be joined by his grandson, Tao Rodriguez-Seeger and the children participating in the non-profit program which overlooks the scenic Bronx River. Seeger will receive a $200,000 legacy from silent film stars Dorothy and Lillian Gish and a silver medallion.
Seeger was selected from a pool of nominations submitted each year by The Gish Prize Selection Committee, which is composed of leaders in the arts. In her will, Lillian Gish specified that the prize should be awarded annually to a man or woman who has made an outstanding contribution to the beauty of the world and to mankinds enjoyment and understanding of life. Now in its 16th year, The Gish Prize continues to reflect the spirit of the pioneering sisters, paying tribute to artistic trailblazers. Gish Prize recipients, from Robert Redford to Arthur Miller and Frank Gehry, have shaped the cultural landscape in drama, music, dance, art, architecture, lighting design, film, and literature. (See full list of Gish Prize recipients below.) JPMorgan Chase Bank is Trustee for The Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize.
One of the most influential musical and social voices of the 20th century, Seeger used his talents not only to entertain but also to unite people and support causes, from labor to the environment. The Gish sisters legacy recognizes the power of art to inform, entertain and encourage generation after generation, said Seeger.
This year, the Gish Prize ceremony will move outdoors to the site of the non-profit organization Rocking the Boat (located adjacent to Hunts Point Riverside Park) in honor of Seegers long-standing work for the environment, which began in the 1960s. A former illegal dumping ground, the sites revitalization through community action reflects Seegers grassroots approach. Today, the park, which was recently cited with the Ruby Bruner Award for Urban Excellence, is an oasis in the city, offering residents and groups like Rocking the Boat a place for learning and recreation.
Seegers Gish Prize award will benefit Rocking the Boat, a program that uses traditional wooden boatbuilding and on-water education to help young people develop into empowered and responsible adults. Rocking the Boats programs directly serve over 2,000 students and community members drawn from a range of New York City public middle schools, high schools and neighborhoods.
Biography: Pete Seeger
Earlier this year, Pete Seeger led a chorus of half a million people in a sing-a-long of This Land is Your Land on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to celebrate the inauguration of President Barack Obama. The performance was a testament to the continued power of Petes music and to his ability to reach beyond the stage. This community approach to performance is a Seeger trademark. Singing together you suddenly find out theres things you can learn from each other that you wouldnt learn from arguments, that you might not learn any other way, said Pete in a 2005 interview on National Public Radio.
Born in 1919 into a family of musicians, Pete dropped out of Harvard at 19 to bicycle across New England and hop freight trains across the country with Woody Guthrie. Through his father, ethnomusicologist Dr. Charles Seeger, he landed a life-changing job following noted folk archivist Alan Lomax on trips through the South collecting and transcribing songs for the Library of Congress. The experience opened his eyes to the lost gems of American traditional music, which has formed the basis of his work throughout his six-decade career. Pete has not only preserved folk songs and stories through his numerous recordings, he has also invigorated the genre with hundreds of original compositions, including “If I Had a Hammer,” “Turn, Turn, Turn,” and the folk standard “Where Have All the Flowers Gone.” As a leading voice of folk music, Pete was an inspiration to countless artists who followed.
For Pete, music has always been a grassroots effort, a way to unite and inspire people for a common cause. He brought protest songs with pro-labor and antiwar themes to the people at picket lines, schools, colleges, union halls, clubs, concert halls and festivals. He played first with The Almanac Singers, which included Woody Guthrie, Sis Cunningham and Lee Hays, and then with the legendary folk band The Weavers, which Pete formed after World War II when he got out of the army.
During the McCarthy-era communist witch-hunts, The Weavers were blacklisted and barred from major recording contracts, concerts and television. Pete went underground releasing numerous albums on independent labels. In the 1960s, Pete and his wife, Toshi, marched in Selma, Alabama, and participated in Civil Rights workshops at the Highlander Institute. It was there that Dr. Martin Luther King first heard We Shall Overcome. Barred from performing on television and radio, Pete sang at summer camps and private colleges across the USA and Canada. Pete became a vocal opponent to the Vietnam War, and his protest songs found a new, younger audience.
Around this time, Pete began turning his attention to the environment, long before it became fashionable. In 1969, he co-founded the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, an environmental organization that champions the restoration and preservation of the Hudson River and its estuaries through grassroots activism, music and education. Clearwater also refers to the 106-foot-long sloop Pete helped build. Today, the sloop still plies the Hudson and the Classroom of the Waves program continues to advocate for the environment and the community of the Hudson Valley by taking over 20,000 school children a year out on the river.
On stage or off, Pete continues to be heard. Perhaps poet Carl Sandburg described it best when he called Pete Americas tuning fork. After all these years, Pete continues to resonate with the best part of America, our soul.
The Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize
The Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize is one of the largest awards in the arts. Nominations are welcomed from the arts community and may be submitted through The Gish Prize website, www.gishprize.com. The Gish Prize committee, a group that changes every year, considers all nominations and chooses each recipient. Composed of leaders in the arts community, the committee for this year includes Cora Cahan, president, The New 42nd Street; Graciela Daniele, choreographer; Michael Kaiser, president, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts; Terrence McNally, playwright; and, Lowery Sims, curator, Museum of Arts and Design.
The Gish Prize was established in 1994 by The Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize Trust. Stars of the silent screen, Dorothy and Lillian Gish brought their unique sensibilities and talents to early film, shaping the development of that art form. The sisters made their motion picture debut together in D.W. Griffiths An Unseen Enemy in 1912 and went on to appear in over 100 films each. They also received accolades for their work on stage and in television. Lillian Gish died in 1993 and Dorothy Gish died in 1968. Their legacy lives on today in The Gish Prize, and in their desire to give the recipients of the prize the recognition they deserve, to bring attention to their contributions to society and encourage others to follow in their path.
The Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize Recipients
2009 Pete Seeger, folk musician, singer and social activist
2008 Robert Redford, filmmaker, activist, Sundance Institute founder
2007 Laurie Anderson, multimedia performance artist
2006 Shirin Neshat, visual artist and filmmaker
2005 Peter Sellars, theatre and opera director
2004 Ornette Coleman, jazz innovator
2003 Bill T. Jones, dancer/choreographer
2002 Lloyd Richards, theatre director
2001 Jennifer Tipton, lighting designer
2000 Merce Cunningham, dancer/choreographer
1999 Arthur Miller, author/playwright
1998 Isabel Allende, author
1997 Bob Dylan, singer/songwriter
1996 Robert Wilson, artist/director
1995 Ingmar Bergman, film director
1994 Frank Gehry, architect