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Pete Seeger: Folk Music Legend, Political Activist

Pete Seeger, who passed away on Jan. 27 at age 94 in New York, 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 SeegerSeeger 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 to the Byrds to Bruce Springsteen, who released an entire CD of Seeger songs 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: “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.


Photo: Brian Shuel/Redferns/Getty Images

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