News / Arts & Entertainment

US Folk Singer, Political Activist Pete Seeger Dies

FILE - Pete Seeger performing on stage during the Farm Aid 2013 concert at Saratoga Performing Arts Center in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
FILE - Pete Seeger performing on stage during the Farm Aid 2013 concert at Saratoga Performing Arts Center in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
Bernie Bernard
Pete Seeger, regarded as the most influential folk artist in America, died Monday of natural causes in New York.  He was 94 years old.  A skilled banjo and guitar player, he was particularly famous for his themes of racial tolerance and peace.

Pete Seeger Obit, narrated by Carla Babb
Pete Seeger Obit, narrated by Carla Babbi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X

During his career, Seeger wrote more than 100 songs, ranging from the freedom cry of "If I Had A Hammer," to his arrangement of the civil rights rallying song "We Shall Overcome," to his anti-war anthem, "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?"

He was born in New York City.  His father was a musicologist and composer and his mother a classical violinist and teacher.  

The younger Seeger studied at Harvard University, but seemed more interested in learning to play the five-string banjo, and left college in the late 1930's.

Later, he met singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie, who became his mentor and greatest influence.  They sang at concerts to benefit migrant farm workers and striking labor union members, becoming popular among left-wing and radical groups.  

Seeger often credited Guthrie with giving him a musical road map that guided his career.

"I figure the most important job I ever did in my life was passing on to a younger generation of songwriters the lessons I learned from him," he said. "That is, you take an old tune and you add new words to it."

In 1948, Seeger formed a quartet called The Weavers, giving an early start to the folk music revival.  The Weavers had commercial success with songs such as "Goodnight, Irene" and the Seeger composition "If I Had A Hammer."  

Although the group sold more than four million records, their popularity came to a sudden halt in the Cold War era, as McCarthyism pointed an accusing finger at those who were branded Communist sympathizers.  The Weavers were blacklisted in the music industry and their recording contract was canceled.  

But as the political tide turned in the 1960's, Seeger was embraced by a new generation as a folk music hero.

A civil rights activist, Seeger sang and marched with Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.  His arrangement of the Baptist hymn, "We Shall Overcome," became theme of the early civil rights movement.  Seeger explained why music always seems to be associated with protest.

"It may be because it is a little less threatening than talking, singing is, and you can get away with things singing that you cannot get away with talking.  I think, in every country in the world, there is a tradition of singing at periods of crisis.  When there is a war, you get war songs, and when somebody falls in love, we write love poetry," Seeger said.

In the mid-1960's, Seeger started a campaign to clean up the polluted Hudson River in New York State.  

In later years, he turned to encouraging nuclear disarmament and closing nuclear power plants.  He also was a campaigner for AIDS research and the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa.

 In the tradition of Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger sang of the American experience, and how the struggle for change can be a painful process. In concert, he had the power to charm audiences into singing along with him.  Once, during a show in Moscow, he taught 10,000 Russians who did not know a word of English to sing "Michael, Row The Boat Ashore" in four-part harmony.  Seeger would always introduce each song with a bit of historical perspective or tell of his inspiration.  He especially delighted young people with his tales and fables, and his many recordings for children are still popular.

After the death of his old friend and colleague, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger often hit the concert trail with Woody's son, Arlo, a pop and folksinger in his own right.  Both were featured on the 1988 album Folkways: A Vision Shared, A Tribute to Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly.

In 1994, Seeger received the Kennedy Center Honor for achievement in the arts, a special tribute to the man who was blacklisted for his alleged political views.  Seeger once commented why he lived his life as an activist.

"I have tried to combine social action with music all my life, whether it is peace or war or unions or civil rights or the women's movement or the gay liberation movement, I have participated in all of them," he explained. " I am convinced they are all different sides of one huge crisis that is either going to wipe out the human race or we will solve it."

Seeger lived by the motto engraved on his banjo, "This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender."

Error rendering storify.

You May Like

Beloved Lion Killing Sparks Virtual, Real Life Outrage

Twitter, as usual, was epicenter for anger directed at Palmer, with some questioning his manhood, calling for him to be released into the wild More

Video Booming London Property Market a Haven for Dirty Money

Billions of dollars from proceeds of crime, especially from Russia, being laundered through London property market, according to anti-corruption activists More

Video Scouts' Decision on Gays Meets Acceptance in Founder's Hometown

One former Scout leader thinks organization will move past political, social debate, get back to its primary focus of turning boys into good citizens More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Anthonybellchambers
January 28, 2014 4:07 AM
What an inadequate obituary for one of the 'greats' of American folk music whose songs reached around the world and brought strength and resolve to hundreds of thousands on campus, in the civil rights movement and organised labor. A man worth five Obamas and at least 20 Bushes. RIP

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’i
X
July 29, 2015 9:34 PM
Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Scouts' Decision on Gays Meets Acceptance in Founder's Hometown

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs

New in Music Alley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harry Wayne Casey – “KC” of KC and the Sunshine Band – comes to VOA’s Studio 4 to talk with "Border Crossings" host Larry London and perform songs from his new album, “Feeling You! The 60s.”