PETE SEEGER DIES AT 94
Singer-songwriter inspired folk revival in the US and was blacklisted during McCarthy era for his leftwing views and lyrics
Tributes have poured in honoring American troubadour, folk music singer and activist Pete Seeger, who has died in New York aged 94. Musicians, fans, campaigners and activists paid tribute to the singer of Where Have All The Flowers Gone and Turn, Turn, Turn, honouring his dedication to fighting for environmental and anti-capitalist issues.
Tom Morello, former guitarist with political rock act Rage Against the Machine, said he was “absolutely the best that humans can aspire to be — a courageous, kind, fearless soul”. British Radio 6 Music DJ Lauren Laverne posted a photograph on Instagram of Seeger toting his banjo, which was inscribed with the words: “This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender.” She wrote: “Still thinking abt Pete Seeger’s amazing century on earth. Loved & hated by precisely the right people. What a guy.”
Seeger’s grandson, Kitama Cahill-Jackson, said his grandfather died after spending six days in the New York Presbyterian Hospital. He passed away peacefully in his sleep at around 9.30pm surrounded by family members, he said, adding that right up to his death he was active and robust. “He was chopping wood 10 days ago,” he said.
Seeger was a key figure in the folk protest movement through the 1950s and 60s and protested against wars from Vietnam to Iraq; even in his 90s he could be seen marching with Occupy Wall Street protesters. “Be wary of great leaders,” he said two days after a 2011 Manhattan Occupy march. “Hope that there are many, many small leaders.”
And in November last year he wrote to Russian President Vladimir Putin requesting the release of Captain Peter Willcox and the Arctic 30.
With era-defining songs such as If I Had a Hammer and Kisses Sweeter Than Wine, it seemed little exaggeration when fellow folk artist Arlo Guthrie said: “Every kid who ever sat around a campfire singing an old song is indebted in some way to Pete Seeger.”
Folk star Cara Dillon described Seeger’s death as “the passing of a giant”, while Kathryn Williams said she was “so sorry” to hear of his death. Musician Neil Innes said: “We must never forget that he stood for all things Woody Guthrie.” Others simply tweeted quotes from Seeger himself, such as singer Eddi Reader who posted his words: “It’s a very important thing to learn to talk to people you disagree with.”
The banjo player was known as an affable protester and remained a proud socialist and left-wing campaigner throughout his life. Once a card-carrying Communist, he came under fire in the McCarthy era of the 50s. Summoned to give evidence about his political leanings and contacts to the the House of Representatives' Un-American Activities committee in 1955, Seeger refused to testify. He denied his views made him disloyal to his country. Asked repeatedly if he had sung for Communists, he retorted: “I love my country very dearly, and I greatly resent this implication that some of the places that I have sung and some of the people that I have known, and some of my opinions, whether they are religious or philosophical, or I might be a vegetarian, make me any less of an American.”
This led, in 1957, to an indictment for contempt of Congress, a prison sentence (later overturned) and a travel ban. In America's cold war blacklisting and red-baiting years, Seeger was unable to perform in many venues, was excluded from college campuses and kept off television for many years. All the while, though, he kept writing and singing.
Seeger was born in New York City in 1919. He came from artistic stock — his mother, Constance, was a violinist and his father, Charles, a musicologist, who worked as a consultant to the Resettlement Administration, which gave artists work during the Depression.
Seeger dropped out of Harvard and toured with Woody Guthrie in the 1940s, forming the group the Weavers in 1948. His work remained influential until his death - his 90th birthday tribute concert featured Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder and country star Emmylou Harris.
In January 2009 he performed at a gala concert in Washington two days before Barack Obama was inaugurated and was due to receive an award that honours those who embody the spirit of his legendary folk contemporary Woody Guthrie during an event on 22 February at the Peter Norton Symphony Space in New York.
Last year, Seeger performed at Farm Aid 2013, the annual benefit for America's family farmers, alongside Willie Nelson and Neil Young.
(Courtesy, the Guardian of London.)