Pete Seeger

  • Folk singer, songwriter and guitarist/banjoist born in 1919 in New York City New York. Died in 2014 from natural causes.
  • Seeger’s parents were musical – his father established the first musicology program in the U.S. at Cal Berkeley with an emphasis in ethnic music, and his mother was a concert violinist and teacher at Juilliard. They divorced when Pete was seven and his father married his assistant, Ruth Crawford. Crawford was deeply interested in folk music, and she was successful in compositions of both classical and folk music. All four of Pete’s half siblings from Crawford became folk singers.
  • Seeger first taught himself to play the ukulele, performing for classmates. At seventeen years old, he heard the five-string banjo at a folk festival in North Carolina, and he was hooked. He practiced until he mastered the instrument. He enrolled at Harvard but dropped out because his involvement with music and politics impacted his grades (he joined the Young Communist League in 1936, and he was a member of the Communist Party USA from 1942 to 1949). In 1939, he toured New York with a puppet theater called the Vagabond Puppeteers, honing his performance skills. Later that year, he took a job at the Archive of American Folk Song of the Library of Congress, sorting through hillbilly music to be selected for the archive. Seeger continued to perform, contributing folk music to radio programs.
  • In 1941, Seeger co-founded the folk group the Almanac Singers. Woody Guthrie was a member of the group. They performed songs with themes that were anti-war, anti-racism and pro-labor union. They released five albums between 1941 and 1942. The earlier albums were traditional folk songs without political overtones. But after the attack on Pearl Harbor and aggression by Nazi Germany, the Almanac Singers recorded an album in support of the war effort. The album Dear Mr. President featured Seeger performing the title track, an open letter to President Roosevelt, telling him about the greatness of America and urging him to “lick Mr. Hitler.” After America entered the war, the band split up.
  • In 1948, Seeger co-founded the Weavers. Their became successful when they were booked to regularly perform at the Village Vanguard club in Greenwich Village in New York City. They were signed to a record label, and they released numerous albums. Their folk version of Good Night Irene stayed at #1 on the charts for 13 weeks, selling more than one million copies. Their concerts became sing-alongs with their audience, as they performed old folk standards like On Top of Old Smoky, Michael Row the Boat Ashore and The Midnight Special. Seeger’s earlier ties to the Communist movement became public and he was blacklisted – this had a perilous effect on the Weavers, and they disbanded in 1952. They reunited in 1955 and Seeger toured and recorded with the group for three more years.
  • While blacklisted, Seeger worked as a teacher and he performed on college campuses. He recorded many albums as a solo artist on the Folkways Record label, releasing 45 studio and live albums on the label between 1950 and 1968. His anti-war songs Where Have All the Flowers Gone?, Turn! Turn! Turn! and The Bells of Rhymney became signature songs and Americana standards. In support of the Civil Rights movement, he recorded and frequently performed the protest anthem We Shall Overcome. 
  • When blacklisted, Seeger was prohibited from performing on television. By the mid 60s, the impact of the blacklisting began to end. He hosted an educational folk music television show titled Rainbow Quest in 1965 and 1966. His national blacklisting ended with his performance of Waist Deep In the Big Muddy on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in 1968 – six months earlier, his performance of the song was cut from the airing of the show by CBS.
  • Seeger continued using his art for social activism during the six decades from the 60s to the 10s. He wrote and sang songs protesting the Vietnam War, supporting labor unions, supporting environmental causes and protesting economic inequalities. At 89 years old, he appeared on the Late Show With David Letterman, performing Take It From Dr. King. He also released a studio album at that age, appropriately titled At 89. His final studio albums were released in 2012 – A More Perfect Union and Pete Remembers Woody were released in September that year, with Seeger at the age of 93.
  • Seeger received numerous awards over the years. Notable awards include three Grammy awards and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, the National Medal of Arts, the Kennedy Center Honors award, and the George Peabody Medal. Seeger was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.
  • Undoubtedly, Seeger is on the Mount Rushmore of Folk Music. Here’s a clip from YouTube – Seeger performing the anti-war anthem Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *