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USA Used Music For Social Change, Pete Seeger Dies At 94

Inderjeet Kaur

Oct 13, 2011
Seattle, Washington, USA
Folk Legend and Activist Pete Seeger Dies at 94

by Cliff Weathers

The banjo-playing troubadour was blacklisted during the McCarthy era for his political views.

Pete Seeger, the activist and folk singer, died at a New York hospital last night at age 94. His grandson, Kitama Cahill-Jackson said the American musical legend passed on Monday night after six days in hospital.

Seeger was born in New York City into a musical and politically active family. His father, Charles, was musicologist and an anti-war activist during World War I, and had previously lost his position as the head of the music department at the University of California, Berkeley, because of his pacifist views. His mother, Constance, was a concert violinist and later a teacher at the Julliard School. His parents divorced when Seeger was seven, and he grew up in New York's Lower Hudson Valley.

The banjo-picking troubadour sang for migrant workers, children, and political causes during his long career. During the 1960s Folk Revival, Seeger performed with Bob Dylan and at anti-Vietnam war protests. Seeger first gained fame as a member of the Weavers folk quartet in the 1940s. The group was made famous by its song, "Goodnight Irene." As a songwriter, Seeger wrote "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?", "If I Had a Hammer", and "Turn, Turn, Turn." He was also known for popularizing the civil rights anthem "We Shall Overcome". His songs have been recorded by many artists, including The Kingston Trio, Marlene Dietrich, Peter, Paul & Mary, The Byrds, Judy Collins, and Bruce Springsteen.

He performed up until recent months, and remained politically active. In 2009, he performed in Washington, DC at a gala for Barack Obama's inauguration. In October 2011, he marched through New York City as part of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Last year, he performed at Farm Aid, an annual benefit for family farmers.

During the McCarthy era in the 1950s, when thousands of Americans were accused of being communists or communist sympathizers, Seeger's political views got him blacklisted and he did not perform on commercial television for more than a decade. In 1955, Seeger was subpoenaed to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. He refused to plead the Fifth Amendment and instead defied the committee and refused to name personal and political associations on the grounds that it would be in violation of his First Amendment rights. Seeger stated: "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."

In 1943, Pete married Toshi-Aline Ōta. The couple remained together, living in upstate Beacon, NY until Toshi's death six months ago.

When asked about his religious views, Seeger once replied: "I feel most spiritual when I’m out in the woods. I feel part of nature. Or looking up at the stars. [I used to say] I was an atheist. Now I say, it’s all according to your definition of God. According to my definition of God, I’m not an atheist. Because I think God is everything. Whenever I open my eyes I’m looking at God. Whenever I’m listening to something I’m listening to God."



1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
There is a lot in the life and the music of Pete Seeger that speaks loudly to Sikhi. Many of his songs could be posted. I chose this one because it was a hall mark song during the Civil Rights Movement in the United States during a turbulent time.

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The history of the song, We Shall Overcome

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Inderjeet Kaur

Oct 13, 2011
Seattle, Washington, USA
One measure of his strength and courage and his commitment to truthful living is that he married the woman of his dreams, who happened to be a Japanese American, in the middle of World War Two.

He left the Weavers, the most popular singing group of their day when they decided to do a cigarette advertisement.

And, of course, he refused to testify to HUAC.

I watched public opinion about him morph from "Commie traitor" to National Treasure.

He has been a constant presence in my life from my birth in 1952 until now. Another great one of that generation has left us. I'm sure wherever he is now, he's singing and organising. I expect that heaven will soon be sporting a new union hall for Angels Local #1.

Here is my personal favourite recording of his, L'Internationale. There is something endearing not only in his clear explanation, but also in his atrocious French pronunciation.

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