Pete Seeger To Everything There is a Season

Pete Seeger 1919-2014.jpg

Submitted by Don Graham

"Every kid who ever sat around a campfire singing an old song is indebted in some way to Pete Seeger," Arlo Guthrie once said and truer words were never spoken

Pete Seeger, the banjo-picking troubadour who sang for migrant workers, college students and star-struck presidents in a career that introduced generations of Americans to their folk music heritage, died Monday at the age of 94. His grandson Kitama Cahill-Jackson​ said "He was chopping wood 10 days ago,"

Pete and Toshi Seeger were married July 20, 1943. The couple built their cabin in Beacon, New York after World War II and stayed on the high spot of land by the Hudson River for the rest of their lives together. The couple raised three children. Toshi Seeger died in July at age 91. Much like Johnny Cash after he lost his beloved June, Pete didn’t last long alone.

The lanky 6’2” Seeger  armed with his  banjo and full white beard was an iconic figure in folk music. He performed with the great  Woody Guthrie in his younger days and marched with Occupy Wall Street protesters in his 90s, leaning on two canes. He wrote or co-wrote If I Had a Hammer, Turn, Turn, Turn, Where Have All the Flowers Gone and Kisses Sweeter Than Wine. He lent his voice against Hitler and nuclear power.

Seeger was a founding member of The Weavers, a quartet organized in 1948 that included Seeger, Lee Hays, Ronnie Gilbert and Fred Hellerman and  helped set the stage for a national folk revival with recordings of Goodnight Irene, Tzena, Tzena and On Top of Old Smokey.

Seeger also was credited with popularizing We Shall Overcome, which he printed in his publication People's Song, in 1948. He later said his only contribution to the anthem of the civil rights movement was changing the second word from "will" to "shall," which he said "opens up the mouth better."

He advocated for causes ranging from civil rights to the cleanup of his beloved Hudson River. Seeger said he left the Communist Party around 1950 and later renounced it. But the association hounded him for years He was kept off commercial television for more than a decade after tangling with the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1955. Repeatedly pressed by the committee to reveal whether he had sung for Communists, Seeger responded sharply: "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."

Seeger called the 1950s, years when he was denied broadcast exposure, the high point of his career. He was on the road touring college campuses, spreading the music he, Guthrie, Huddie "Leadbelly" Ledbetter and others had created or preserved.

"The most important job I did was go from college to college to college to college, one after the other, usually small ones," he told The Associated Press in 2006. "And I showed the kids there's a lot of great music in this country they never played on the radio. His scheduled return to commercial network television on the highly rated Smothers Brothers variety show in 1967 was hailed as a nail in the coffin of the blacklist. But CBS cut out his Vietnam protest song, Waist Deep in the Big Muddy, and Seeger accused the network of censorship.

Seeger was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996 as an early influence. Ten years later, Bruce Springsteen honoured him with We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, a rollicking reinterpretation of songs sung by Seeger. While pleased with the album, Seeger said he wished it was "more serious." A 2009 concert at Madison Square Garden to mark Seeger's 90th birthday featured Springsteen, Dave Matthews, Eddie Vedder and Emmylou Harris among the performers.

Seeger's sometimes ambivalent relationship with rock was most famously on display when Dylan "went electric" at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. Witnesses say Seeger became furious backstage as the amped-up band played, though just how furious is debated. Seeger dismissed the legendary tale that he looked for an axe to cut Dylan's sound cable, and said his objection was not to the type of music but only that the guitar mix was so loud you couldn't hear Dylan's lyrics.

Pete Seeger was still relevant right up to the time of his passing having been nominated for a Grammy in 2014 in the Best Spoken Word category.

When asked to reflect on his legacy, Seeger said "Can't prove a damn thing, but I look upon myself as old grandpa. There's not dozens of people now doing what I try to do, not hundreds, but literally thousands ... The idea of using music to try to get the world together is now all over the place."

Rest In Peace Pete Seeger.