By Aglaia Staff

Pete Seeger, the singer, folk-song collector and songwriter who spearheaded an American folk revival and spent a long career championing folk music as both a vital heritage and a catalyst for social change, died on Monday. He was 94 and lived in Beacon, New York.

His death was confirmed by his grandson, Kitama Cahill Jackson, who said he died of natural causes at New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

 

More than a singer, more than a teacher and inspiration to three generations of folk and rock musicians, Seeger was in the words of one his acolytes, Bruce Springsteen, “a stealth dagger through the heart of our country’s illusions about itself”.

 

The folk singer and folklorist was also a man whose ”great heart was matched only by his commitment to social justice”, said former president Bill Clinton. A commitment that harked back more than 70 years, including some of the darkest days of the mid-20th century; when his career was effectively blocked by both his communist sympathies and his refusal to give ground in what current Springsteen sideman and musical activist Tom Morello called his “uncompromising baddass testimony before the House un-American Activities Committee”.

That Seeger’s influence and example extended not just beyond the songs but also beyond his own country was evident in a series of statements from Britain’s Billy Bragg, who declared that “his songs will be sung wherever people struggle for their rights … we shall overcome” and wanted it remembered that call him communist, socialist or just plain agitator, Seeger was an activist as well as a folk singer.

Peter Seeger towered over the folk scene like a mighty redwood for 75 years. He travelled with Woody Guthrie in the 1940s, stood up to Joe McCarthy in the ’50s, marched with Dr Martin Luther King in the ’60s,” Bragg said.

Seeger’s career carried him from singing at labor rallies to the Top 10 to college auditoriums to folk festivals, and from a conviction for contempt of Congress (after defying the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s) to performing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at an inaugural concert for Barack Obama.

For Seeger, folk music and a sense of community were inseparable, and where he saw a community, he saw the possibility of political action.

In his hearty tenor, Seeger, a beanpole of a man who most often played 12-string guitar or five-string banjo, sang topical songs and children’s songs, humourous tunes and earnest anthems, always encouraging listeners to join in.

Pete Seeger and Willie Nelson on stage during the Farm Aid 2013 concert at Saratoga Performing Arts Center in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. 

His agenda paralleled the concerns of the American left: He sang for the labor movement in the ’40s and ’50s, for civil rights marches and anti-Vietnam War rallies in the ’60s, and for environmental and antiwar causes in the ’70s and beyond. We Shall Overcome, which Seeger adapted from old spirituals, became a civil rights anthem.

 

 Pete Seeger, Songwriter Dies At 94
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