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Pete Seeger: Folk Music Legend, Political Activist

Posted By Patrick Kiger On January 28, 2014 @ 12:10 pm In Legacy | Comments Disabled

Pete Seeger, who passed away on Jan. 27 at age 94 in New York [1], accomplished the nearly unimaginable. He showed that one man, armed only with a banjo, a tenor singing voice and the courage of his convictions, not only could leave an indelible stamp upon popular music, but also challenge injustice and fight for a better world.

Pete Seeger [2]Seeger helped popularize folk music, a genre derived from the traditional chants, hymns and laments of hardscrabble rural America, and wrote or co-wrote some American standards. His work inspired scores of musicians, from Bob Dylan [3] to the Byrds to Bruce Springsteen [4], who released an entire CD of Seeger songs [5]in 2006.

But Seeger also exerted nearly as powerful of an influence with his civil rights, antiwar and environmental activism. His performances of “We Shall Overcome,” a song synthesized by others from African-American religious music, helped make it an anthem for protesters fighting segregation. And he provided an example of how to speak truth to power in 1955. When the House Un-American Activities Committee asked questions about his political beliefs or associations, he refused to answer, at the risk of going to prison, and instead offered to sing to the committee.

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As Seeger said in a Beliefnet interview [7]: “My main purpose in life at this age – almost 90 years old – I’ve decided that if there’s a human race here in one hundred years, it will be because we learn how to participate with each other, even though we may disagree about many things.”

Here are a few of Seeger’s memorable songs.

  • “If I Had a Hammer.” Seeger and Lee Hays, who performed together in The Weavers, wrote this song in 1949. Peter, Paul and Mary made it a Top 40 hit in 1962. YouTube Preview Image [8]
  • “Turn! Turn! Turn!” Seeger gave his song, inspired by the Book of Ecclesiastes, to the Byrds, whose folk-rock version became a hit in 1965. YouTube Preview Image [9]
  • “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” Seeger’s composition, with a melody adapted from a Russian folk song, was a hit for the Kingston Trio in 1962. Peter, Paul and Mary, who also recorded the song, performed it with Seeger at this 2009 concert. YouTube Preview Image [10]
  • “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy.” Seeger’s 1967 antiwar allegory was so controversial that CBS cut his performance of it from The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, though that raised such a stir that the segment eventually aired.   YouTube Preview Image [11]
  • “Guantanamera.” Seeger’s musical arrangement, coupled with the lyrics by Cuban poet and independence hero Jose Marti, became a hit for the Sandpipers in 1966. YouTube Preview Image [12]


Photo: Brian Shuel/Redferns/Getty Images

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Also of Interest


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Article printed from AARP: http://blog.aarp.org

URL to article: http://blog.aarp.org/2014/01/28/pete-seeger-folk-music-legend-political-activist/

URLs in this post:

[1] passed away on Jan. 27 at age 94 in New York: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/29/arts/music/pete-seeger-songwriter-and-champion-of-folk-music-dies-at-94.html?_r=0

[2] Image: http://blog.aarp.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/240-pete-seeger-dead-94-legacy.jpg

[3] Bob Dylan: http://video.aarp.org/video/The-Life-and-Career-of-Bob-Dyla?intcmp=AE-BLIL-DOTORG

[4] Bruce Springsteen: http://blog.aarp.org/2012/07/25/bruce-springsteen-depression-news-causes-a-stir-draws-attention-to-male-middle-aged-depression/?intcmp=AE-BLIL-BL

[5] an entire CD of Seeger songs : http://brucespringsteen.net/albums/we-shall-overcome-the-seeger-sessions

[6] >> Sign up for the AARP Health Newsletter: http://www.aarp.org/online-community/people/subscribeFromEmail.action?id=19061&intcmp=ILC-EMAIL-SUB-HLTH

[7] Beliefnet interview: http://www.beliefnet.com/Entertainment/Music/2006/08/Pete-Seegers-Session.aspx?p=1

[8] Image: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rl-yszPdRTk

[9] Image: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iUT4QpHcWGI

[10] Image: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GCPAhR09wCA

[11] Image: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uXnJVkEX8O4

[12] Image: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5JLCAIJLJ8

[13] >> Get travel discounts with your AARP Member Advantages.: http://discounts.aarp.org/travel/index/uSource/HCTN?intcmp=AE-BL-TRV-DISC

[14] Eric Lawson (a.k.a. Marlboro Man), Dies at Age 72 from COPD: http://blog.aarp.org/2014/01/27/the-marlboro-man-who-became-an-anti-smoking-activist/?intcmp=AE-ENDART1-BL-REL

[15] Proper Tipping and Other Confessions of Hotel Housekeepers: http://www.aarp.org/travel/travel-tips/info-02-2013/hotel-housekeepers-share-cleaning-and-gratuity-tips.html?intcmp=AE-ENDART2-BL-BOS

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[17] Join AARP: https://appsec.aarp.org/MSS/join/application?keycode=U9ZTPH9&intcmp=AE-ENDART3-BL-MEM

[18] AARP home page: http://www.aarp.org/?intcmp=AE-ENDART3-BL-HP

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