In memory of the great Pete Seeger who has died at the age of 94. A great Pacifist, a great Humanitarian and a Great American.
In a career that’s spanned over 70 years Pete Seeger has embodied the idealism that once defined the American spirit. A tireless crusader for social justice, world harmony and environmental causes, Seeger was even called, at the height of his activism, “America’s tuning fork.” A New Yorker, he was born and died in that great city and in his later years he was the driving force behind the Clearwater Movement campaigning tirelessly to clean up the Hudson River.
The trajectory of Seeger’s life is amazing. Born May 3, 1919, he first wanted to become a journalist. Music beckoned, however, and following a period where he assisted folk-song archivist Alan Lomax, he teamed with legendary songwriter Woody Guthrie to form the politically oriented Almanac Singers. Drafted into the Army in 1942, Seeger served out his duty and then co-founded the folk group, the Weavers. In addition to popularizing the Guthrie classic “This Land Is Your Land,” the Weavers topped the charts in 1950 with their version of Leadbelly’s “Goodnight, Irene.”
Blacklisted during the McCarthy era, the Weavers disbanded in 1953. Informally banned from TV programs and radio shows—as well as from many concert stages—Seeger began performing at high schools and on college campuses. How shameful this turn of events was and how it betrayed the American spirit can be gauged from the fact in the 1940’s he campaigned with Eleanor Roosevelt against racial segregation in a still segregated Washington DC. Concurrent with the folk revival of the early ’60s, his songs became better known to the public at large. Thanks to hit versions by the Kingston Trio, Peter, Paul & Mary, and the Byrds, the Seeger-written songs “If I Had a Hammer,” “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” and “Turn! Turn! Turn!” have become part of the American lexicon.
He was a young lad of 74 when he performed this paean to the waste of war, based on the Russian folk tune “Koloda Duda” and quoting lines from the Cossack folk song “Tovchu, tovchu mak”, referenced in the Mikhail Sholokhov novel “And Quiet Flows the Don.”
There is a great difference between people who sing folk songs and folk singers. Pete Seeger was a folk singer. RIP.
Pete Seeger. May 3, 1919 – January 27, 2014