We publish here a short obituary to Pete Seeger, the American folk singer and activist, who sadly passed away last week on 27th January at the age of 94. Seeger was a decent man who suffered disgraceful harassment at the hands of the US establishment throughout the 1950s and 1960s.
The American folk singer and songwriter Pete Seeger died last week on 27th January, aged 94. His presence will be sorely missed. He was a decent man who suffered disgraceful harassment at the hands of the US establishment throughout the 1950s and 1960s.
Born into a comfortable middle class home, Seeger attended a private school and later the Ivy League college of Harvard. Seeger’s father, a musicologist, first exposed his son to American folk music at a very young age. He began performing whilst at college and joined the Communist Party.
He met, formed friendships and performed with folk luminaries such as Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie and Cisco Houston. He was a member of the Almanac Singers who followed the Communist Party line in the first days of the Second World War with anti-war music but later changed after Stalin’s pact with Hitler to anti-fascist and jingoist material. Seeger was inducted into an army entertainment troupe in 1942 for the remainder of the war.
Although Seeger maintained his CP membership for many years he was, in fact, not an activist. This was not enough to prevent him facing the House Committee for Un-American Activities or the various state-led agencies engaged in ‘red-baiting’. Radio and TV appearances dried up under pressure from the state but Seeger formed another group, The Weavers, which excelled in presenting union, civil rights and environmental songs. Once more, the state moved might and main to silence him and his fellow songsters.
Much of his later life he devoted to environmental causes with his sloop ‘Clearwater’ campaigning for cleaning up the Hudson river in New York state, heavily polluted by multi-national companies. Singer and troubadour Don McLean, among others, came under Seeger’s influence in this popular scheme.
Seeger’s natural dignity and humanity won him friends around the world and when the Great Folk Revival occurred in the early 1960s Seeger found himself much in demand and winning new, young adherents to the folk cause.