R.I.P Pete Seeger: So Much More than a Musician

The passing of Pete Seeger at the remarkable age of 94 is one that will be felt deeply by many of my generation across the world.

I was born in the late 1950’s, a year after “If I had a Hammer” was first released, I learnt nursery rhymes and Christmas carols as a child.

My first “grown up” songs were “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” shortly followed by “We Shall Overcome” — the words of which I still know by heart.

These, of course, became part and parcel of any and all peace marches, Vietnam Protests and civil resistance.

Here is Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

Pete Seeger had the Art of pressing home some of the most important messages and lessons in life in the simplest of ways through his music and lyrics.

Little Boxes was a classic social commentary on the boxes that society places us in — from our employment and the housing that fueled the economic boom in the USA.

Pete Seeger was the father of American Folk Music which was deemed to have been born in 1940 — the year when he met Woody Guthrie while he was traveling across America after he abandoned his formal education at Harvard University. Together, they formed the Almanac Singers a musical cooperative dedicated to bringing all forms of social injustice to the forefront via music.

His passion for social justice followed him throughout his life. His ten year membership of the Communist party and resulting investigation by HUAC — The House Un-American Activities Committee — in 1955 kept him off mainstream TV and radio networks for seventeen years, even though the charge of contempt of Congress was overturned on appeal.

Typically, for Seeger, he called those years the high point of his career.  He spent them touring university and college campuses spreading his messages to an emerging generation of students.

Seeger’s campaigning took him beyond campuses to civil rights, anti-racism, the abolition of the death penalty and Eco-activism via the Clearwater Foundation which he founded in the late 1960’s.

Official recognition for his work and music include induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996 and a Grammy Award for the best folk album in 1997 and playing alongside “The Boss” — Bruce Springsteen — at the “We Are One” Presidential Inaugural Concert, January 19, 2009.

The classic, This Land is your Land:

Pete Seeger’s real legacy, however, will be found wherever there is strife and people gather around the campfire or brazier and sing the anthem of hope: We Shall Overcome.

9 comments

  • Fantastic article, Nicola! Pete was a great mind and musician.

    We also should not forget to celebrate his beautiful wife, Toshi — who died in July of last year at 91:

    Mrs. Seeger helped produce thousands of her husband’s concerts. When he hosted “Rainbow Quest,” a television show devoted to folk music, in 1965 and 1966, she directed it — although her official credit was “Chief Cook and Bottle Washer.”

    In 2007 she was the executive producer of the PBS documentary “Pete Seeger: The Power of Song.” It won an Emmy.

    In 1966 she joined with her husband to create an environmental charity, using a sloop called Clearwater as a rallying point in a campaign to clean up the Hudson. She played a crucial role in starting a music festival, known as the Great Hudson River Revival, to support these efforts. It attracts 15,000 visitors annually.

    She even taught Mr. Seeger to sail. “She was the one who steered the boat; she had the chart, she kept off the rocks,” he said in a 2012 interview with Persimmon Tree magazine.

    Mrs. Seeger also made folk-music films. One depicts prisoners in Texas chopping trees and singing.

    Mrs. Seeger’s grandfather translated Marx into Japanese and was banished from Japan for leftist activity. Under Japanese law, a son could take a father’s place in exile, and Takashi Ohta, Toshi’s father, did so. He roamed the world and met Virginia Berry, an American. They married and ended up in Munich.

    http://boles.co/1e7l68T

    Like

  • Thank you so much for adding your celebration of his wife Toshi – the picture is now complete :)

    Like

    • Pete was a big fan of Toshi. Without her, he would not have been as wildly successful. I was extremely concerned for him when she died first.

      Like

      • I was reading a little more she really was his rock and right hand woman.

        Like

        • I really think she was the one who brought him to the world for us — I think Pete would have been happy to sit on a rock in the woods. His legacy is much of her mastery.

          Like

          • She most certainly was a great enabler – taking on all that she could to let him do what he did best.

            Like

          • Enabler in a good way, right?

            That word has such a negative context now in the USA — as in “enabling dysfunctional behavior.”

            Enabling is a term often used in the context of a relationship with an addict. It might be a drug addict or alcoholic, a gambler, or a compulsive overeater. Enablers, rather than addicts, suffer the effects of the addict’s behavior.

            Enabling is “removing the natural consequences to the addict of his or her behavior.” Professionals warn against enabling because evidence has shown that an addict experiencing the damaging consequences of his addiction on his life has the most powerful incentive to change. Often this is when the addict “hits bottom” – a term commonly referred to in Alcoholics Anonymous.

            http://boles.co/1fcbMNn

            Like

  • David ………….. yes in the most positive way – and ACK to the negative context – maybe I have to change my language to empowering !

    Like

Share Your Thoughts:

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s