One of America's strongest folk heroes, Pete Seeger, passed away at New York Presbyterian Hospital while in his sleep last night at age 94. The often controversial activist, songwriter and performer shared his vision and professed his ideas of social change through the many folk songs and performances through decades of his life.
Seeger championed his ideas of social change regardless of how others perceived him. He defied Congress and was censored in his career. Performances were not broadcast because of his message. Generally envisioned as a pro-socialist, his messages through song went further than that. He sought a better world for everyone whether it be the children, labor workers or the military fighting in Viet Nam. His messasge was for kindness, fairness and peace. Who could argue with that. Unfortunately, some did. After Seeger was blacklisted during the "Red Scare" of the 1950s, the folk song revivalist, civil rights advocate, and social activist began performing unannounced "community concerts" at schools, camps and community centers. These concerts became some of Seeger's most important works even though they were hidden from the public. In fact his 1960 Bowsdoin College Concert didn't see the light of day until 2012 when released on Smithsonian Folkways.
His influence became wide spread in the folk movements and revivals that began in the '50s and rose in the '60s. One can find part of Seeger in all styles of music. His influence went far beyond the folk music that he enjoyed. During the turmoil of the anti-war movement of the 1960s, he was there. His "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" became an anti-war standard which many other groups performed throughout the war's long passing.
More for the cause than for profit or business, Seeger's tools were his banjo and his music. He sought social change more than fame or wealth. These were his method for implementing change. Through thousands of tracks and over 100 albums, he sought to shape the thoughts of those he influenced into making the world a better place. No one can deny his impact upon the folk music scene through his last days. Seeger stood above the rest and never wavered in his ideas or his perserverance in getting his message out. He was truly legendary in the folk music scene.
"Well, of course he passed away! ... But that doesn't mean he's gone."
- Arlo Guthrie
Seeger performed on his banjo but, he also was a guitarist playing both 6and 12 string guitars. It was his songwriting and the selection of other songs that enabled him to share and celebrate his music through his community of young people who were willing to hear his message and help create change in their world.
Pete Seeger is a recipient of The Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (1993), The National Medal of Arts (1994), the Kennedy Center Lifetime Achievement Honor (1994) and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1996). In 2008 he was honored with a GRAMMY Award for best traditional album for 'At 89,' and he earned The Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience Award for his commitment to peace and social justice as a musician, songwriter, activist, and environmentalist. He has also been suggested as a worthy recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Seeger's wife, Toshi, passed away mid last year. She also played a role in Seegers social and activist roles. Together they created Sing Out magazine which became a musical outlet for their song during the peak of the '60s folk scene. They shared their vision through the songs in their magazine as well as Pete's concerts and writings.
Seeger was definitely a key to America's folk music tradition. From his early days with The Weavers where in 1950 his recording of Lead Belly's "Goodnight, Irene" rose to the charts and then stayed there for a remarkable 13 weeks to "If I Had a Hammer" and others which rose to popularity during the two decade folk revival years.
"I usually quote Plato, who said: It is very dangerous to allow the wrong kind of music in the republic."
- Pete Seeger
Seeger earne4d many of his awards long after his works were popular. His first Grammy, The Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award was bestowed in 1993. The National Medal of Arts from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1994 along with the Kennedy Center Honors that year. 1996 he was awarded The James Smithson Bicentennial Medal, The Harvard Arts Medal and was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. He later earned Grammy awards for Best Traditional Folk Album of 1996 for Pete (1997), Best Traditional Album of 2008 for his record At 89 (2008), and Best Children's Album of 2010 for his record Tomorrow's Children, Pete Seeger and the Rivertown Kids and Friends (2010)
Pete Seeger worked to influence social change through song. Ultimately, we will remember him through his song. He will be remembered for his constant smile, his lively music and the impact he made on our world.