Pete Seeger, the American folk singer, songwriter and social activist who did battle with injustice in America armed with a banjo, a guitar and the transformative power of song, has died. He was 94.
A veteran of the labour, peace and civil rights movements, Seeger remained relevant as an activist into his 90s. He was equally musician and revolutionary, playing a major role in the folk music revival that began in the late 1950s while helping to craft the soundtrack of 1960s protests through such songs as We Shall Overcome, Where Have All the Flowers Gone and Turn! Turn! Turn!
“At some point, Pete Seeger decided he’d be a walking, singing reminder of all of America’s history,” Bruce Springsteen said at the all-star Madison Square Garden concert marking Seeger’s 90th birthday in 2009. “He’d be a living archive of America’s music and conscience, a testament to the power of song and culture to nudge history along, to push American events towards a more humane and justified ends,” said Springsteen, who had performed Woody Guthrie’s This Land Is Your Land with Seeger at the Lincoln Memorial concert marking President Obama’s 2008 inauguration.
He was gifted at connecting with audiences, Seeger called his ability to inspire regular folks to sing along his “cultural guerrilla tactic.” “There’s no such thing as a wrong note as long as you’re singing it,” he told the 15,000-strong crowd at his birthday celebration.
Seeger’s life of music and political activism could be summed up in The Hammer Song, the enduring anthem he wrote more than 60 years ago with his good friend Lee Hays to support the progressive political movement in the U.S. The song is best remembered by Trini Lopez. Pete liked Trini’s version adding, “I’d really rather put songs on people’s lips than in their ears.”
Seeger inspired a generation of folk singers and musicians that included the Kingston Trio and Joan Baez, who once said: “We all owe our careers to Pete Seeger.”
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