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A Forgotten Political Milestone in TV History

Pete Seeger had been blacklisted from network television since the 1950s.

Fifty years ago today (February 25, 1968) Pete Seeger sang the controversial anti-war song "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy" on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour show on CBS.

Fifty years ago today (February 25, 1968) Pete Seeger sang the controversial anti-war song "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy" on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour show on CBS. (Screen shot)

I'm shocked that the media overlooked this important milestone in American musical and political history. Fifty years ago today (February 25, 1968) Pete Seeger sang the controversial anti-war song "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy" on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour show on CBS.

Pete had been blacklisted from network television since the 1950s because of his leftist politics, so for the Smothers brothers to invite him to sing on their popular show -- much less to sing a powerful anti-war song in the midst of the Vietnam war -- was an act of courage. What made Pete's appearance controversial was that he had performed "Big Muddy" on the Smothers Brothers show the previous September, but CBS refused to broadcast it and removed it from the tape. An angry Tom Smothers made sure that the story of the censorship appeared in the media. Because of the bad press, an outcry among the public, and probably because the Vietnam War had become even more unpopular, the Smothers Brothers were allowed to invite Seeger back later in the season, when he again sang “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy," which was clearly metaphor for the Vietnam war.

Pete first sang a medley of anti-war song, then launched into "Big Muddy."  Here's a video of Pete's performance 50 years ago today:

For those unfamiliar with Pete's political and musical story, here's my tribute to him, published in The Nation after he died in January 2014.

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Peter Dreier

Peter Dreier

Peter Dreier is E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics, and chair of the Urban & Environmental Policy Department, at Occidental College. His most recent book is The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame (Nation Books, 2012). His other books include: Place Matters: Metropolitics for the 21st Century (University Press of Kansas, 3rd edition, 2014), and The Next Los Angeles: The Struggle for a Livable City (University of California Press, revised 2006). He writes regularly for the Los Angeles Times, Common Dreams, The Nation, and Huffington Post.

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