Pete Seeger’s Rainbow Quest: televisual old age, intergenerationalism, and US folk music

Simon H. Buck*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


In 2009, television networks worldwide broadcast the performance of the nonagenarian Pete Seeger, an aging icon of the Sixties, accompanied by his son Tao, Bruce Springsteen, and a choir of children, at the inauguration of President Barack Obama, a figure intimately associated by many with a fulfilment of at least some of the progressive potential of the Sixties. The event encapsulated an overlooked legacy of the Sixties: televised old age and intergenerationalism. From 1965 to 1966, Seeger produced and presented thirty-nine episodes of Rainbow Quest, a television program in which the musician-activist shared songs and conversation with a diverse set of guests. The show has attracted the interest of several scholars for the ways it reflected Seeger’s enthusiasm for internationalism, multiculturalism, world “folk” music, and, surprisingly, the mass media. Yet few have given thought to the overrepresentation of older musicians on the show: over half of the episodes feature at least one guest in their late fifties or older, often paired with younger performers. The program represents a strident, if underrecognized, zeal for intergenerationalism on the part of an iconic Sixties performer, and challenges essentialization of the era as one of pervasive youth culture and generational division. This article reappraises Rainbow Quest with this age frame by identifying the role of aging and generational identity in the making of the show, and the risks of inadvertently reinforcing entrenched ageist tropes on television. Rainbow Quest also serves as a useful springboard for reconsidering some of the specific complexities of the folk revival, particularly its relative uniqueness as a site of intergenerationalism. Just as significantly, this article also situates notions of aging as significant threads in the interconnected and shifting web of race, class, and gender dynamics that characterized the Sixties, Seeger’s career, and the folk scene he helped build.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)69-94
Issue number1
Early online date18 Apr 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 18 Apr 2019


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