Remembering Pete Seeger


There is far too much to say about Pete Seeger in the few lines I have here. He led the fullest of lives: from singing in saloons and train jumping with Woody Guthrie in the early ‘40s, to forming The Almanacs, to serving in World War II. After the war, he sang in the quartet The Weavers, and wrote the iconic song “If I Had a Hammer” with Lee Hays. Seeger helped lead the folk revival in the ‘50s and ‘60s, garnering a top-of-the-charts hit with The Weavers’ cover of “Goodnight, Irene.”

During America’s Red Scare, Seeger was investigated and found to be part of the Communist Party. When brought before Congress for a hearing, he was happy to speak about his life and music, but he refused to testify on other issues, saying, “I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this.”

For him it was less of a question of exercising his rights under the Fifth Amendment, so much as honoring the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment: the right to say and act as his beliefs dictated, without being questioned or punished for it. Because of this, he was found in contempt of Congress and sentenced to prison. The charges were later dropped, although he was blacklisted by our government from then on.

He was at the forefront of activism for many causes. He was an outspoken dissenter against the Vietnam War and gave voice to it in songs such as “Waist Deep in the Muddy” and “Where Have all the Flowers Gone?” He was a strong advocate of civil rights; his rendition of a time-worn hymn which he called “We Shall Overcome” has become a symbol of reform and has stood as a light for a brighter future. In the ‘70s and ‘80s he started getting involved in environmental activism as well. Even at the age of NINETY ONE, he took part in a march for Occupy Wall Street.

I grew up hearing my mother sing Pete Seeger songs. Anti-war songs, Civil Rights Songs, songs that spoke of hope, equality, freedom and justice. What he stood for, what his music stood for, shouldn’t fade away with the older generations: it should be a part of our era, a message for every generation. His idealism, his optimism, and his hope that we can achieve something greater simply by using our voices, all form a legacy that lives beyond the man himself.




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