It's no exaggeration to say that Pete Seeger has done more to popularize American folk music than any other contemporary musician, authoring or co-authoring the songs that have become folk standards: "If I Had a Hammer," "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" and "Turn! Turn! Turn!" to name just a few. His work has inspired countless musicians including Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and the Dixie Chicks, and his tireless political and environmental activism have galvanized generations of admirers to follow his lead and take action.
Born on May 3, 1919 to Charles and Constance Seeger, music was in Seeger's blood from the first; his father was a Professor of musicology and his mother, a classical violinist. Seeger grew up surrounded by music, learning to play the ukulele, guitar and banjo by the time he was in his teens. An early job assisting folk archivist Alan Lomax to transcribe and record traditional music in the American South cemented his commitment to reviving the American folk music tradition.
Seeger’s commitment to the revival of American folk music is rivaled only by his commitment to using music as an instrument for social change. His activism has been a constant in his career. Throughout the 1940’s, he was singing protest and union songs—first with Woody Guthrie, and his first group, The Almanac Singers, then after the Almanacs disbanded, with The Weavers, the popular folk quartet Seeger founded with Lee Hays. Their cover of Lead Belly’s “Goodnight Irene” became a number-one selling song for 1950. But at the height of their popularity, the group was black-listed and put under FBI surveillance for their politics, forcing Seeger to spend much of the 50’s battling HUAC for his socialist beliefs.
Seeger continued to attract new audiences through his activism. In the 1960’s, his Civil Rights and Vietnam War protest songs spoke to a new generation of fans. Then in the 70s, Seeger turned his attention to the environment, a cause to which he remains devoted, going green long before it became popular to do so. And now, at age 89, Seeger still performs on occasion in public, and continues to receive accolades for his many achievements. Of note, he received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1993, the Presidential Medal of the Arts in 1994, an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996, was named a Living Legend by the Library of Congress in 2000, and as of today, nearly 18,000 people and counting have signed the petition to nominate Seeger for a Nobel peace prize.
Springsteen to Seeger: “You Outlasted the Bastards”
“You outlasted the bastards, man,” Bruce Springsteen told the roaring crowd.
I think that was my favorite line at the rollicking birthday concert celebrating Pete Seeger’s 90th!
There were other uplifting, astonishing moments Sunday night at Madison Square Garden, at a five-hour concert which Seeger only OK’d because it raised much-needed funds for his Clearwater project�"a non profit organization which the oft-maligned bard started in 1969 to clean up his beloved, polluted Hudson River.