Remembering folk icon Pete Seeger

Written by
Pete Seeger at age 88 at the Clearwater Festival 2007  by Anthony Pepitone (Wiki commons)

Below, Warren talks to David King Dunaway, an oral historian and radio producer whose many books include, “How Can I Keep from Singing?”, a biography of Pete Seeger.

Legendary folk singer Pete Seeger, who fought for social justice through music and activism has died at age 94. He wrote “If I Had a Hammer,” “Turn, Turn, Turn” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” and inspired a whole generation of folk musicians.

In 1955, the singer was brought before the  House Un-American Activities Committee, where he refused to answer questions and was held in contempt. He was sentenced to 10 years in jail, but the charges were ultimately dropped. “I still believe the only chance for the human race to survive is to give up such pleasures as war, racism and private profit, Seeger told Rolling Stone in 1979.

Seeger stood up for his political beliefs throughout his long life.

From The Atlantic:

But what made his life remarkable weren’t his political beliefs—right or wrong there are plenty of people with such beliefs.  It was the countless selfless acts he took in honor of those beliefs.  Here was a man who dedicated the entirety of his long life to profound social issues, a man unafraid to take controversial positions on the biggest issues of his age even when those positions were not popular or expedient.  “I believe that there are things worth saying,” he would say and, of course, he was right.

New York Times:

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

Los Angeles Times:

When people asked the ever-upbeat Seeger if he ever got discouraged, he’d reply: “I say ‘the hell with it’ every night around 9:30 then get up the next morning. Besides, if you sing for children, you can’t really say there’s no hope.”

The White House released this statement: 

Once called ‘America’s tuning fork,’ Pete Seeger believed deeply in the power of song. But more importantly, he believed in the power of community – to stand up for what’s right, speak out against what’s wrong, and move this country closer to the America he knew we could be. Over the years, Pete used his voice — and his hammer — to strike blows for worker’s rights and civil rights; world peace and environmental conservation. And he always invited us to sing along. For reminding us where we come from and showing us where we need to go, we will always be grateful to Pete Seeger. Michelle and I send our thoughts and prayers to Pete’s family and all those who loved him.

However, perhaps the best way to remember him is to listen, and even better, to sing.  “I’d really rather put songs on people’s lips than in their ears,” he said.