Pete Seeger, Singer-songwriter inspired folk revival in the US and was blacklisted during McCarthy era for his leftwing views and lyrics
Tributes have poured in honouring American troubadour, folk music singer and activist Pete Seeger, who has died in New York aged 94. Musicians, fans, campaigners and activists paid tribute to the singer of Where Have All The Flowers Gone and Turn, Turn, Turn, honouring his dedication to fighting for environmental and anti-capitalist issues.
Seeger was a key figure in the folk protest movement through the 1950s and 60s and protested against wars from Vietnam to Iraq; even in his 90s he could be seen marching with Occupy Wall Street protesters. “Be wary of great leaders,” he said two days after a 2011 Manhattan Occupy march. “Hope that there are many, many small leaders.”
The banjo player was known as an affable protester and remained a proud socialist and left-wing campaigner throughout his life. Once a card-carrying Communist, he came under fire in the McCarthy era of the 50s. Summoned to give evidence about his political leanings and contacts to the the House of Representatives’ Un-American Activities committee in 1955, Seeger refused to testify. He denied his views made him disloyal to his country. Asked repeatedly if he had sung for Communists, he retorted: “I love my country very dearly, and I greatly resent this implication that some of the places that I have sung and some of the people that I have known, and some of my opinions, whether they are religious or philosophical, or I might be a vegetarian, make me any less of an American.”
This led, in 1957, to an indictment for contempt of Congress, a prison sentence (later overturned) and a travel ban. In America’s cold war blacklisting and red-baiting years, Seeger was unable to perform in many venues, was excluded from college campuses and kept off television for many years. All the while, though, he kept writing and singing.
Seeger was born in New York City in 1919. He came from artistic stock – his mother, Constance, was a violinist and his father, Charles, a musicologist, who worked as a consultant to the Resettlement Administration, which gave artists work during the Depression.
Seeger dropped out of Harvard and toured with Woody Guthrie in the 1940s, forming the group the Weavers in 1948.
Seeger’s evergreen songs include Where Have All The Flowers Gone, inspired by a Ukrainian poem concerning the futility of men losing their lives in war; and Turn! Turn! Turn! If I Had A Hammer was a freedom song chanted by U.S. civil rights marchers; the radical anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks has chosen it as their official song.
And though he didn’t write it, Seeger was probably the artist most responsible for popularising the protest song We Shall Overcome, anthem of the Sixties African-American civil rights movement and staple hymn of solidarity of every student or eco-warrior sit-in that has ever graced the planet.
His hit version of Little Boxes was an early satire of suburbia (the title being a reference to middle-class homes) and suburban values.
Although Seeger clearly made an exception in his anti-militarism for the fight against Hitler, he returned to his anti-war stance during the Cold War and Vietnam War, and emblazoned his banjo with the motto ‘This Machine Surrounds Hate And Forces It To Surrender’.
He became critical of the Soviet Union, and insisted he was only a communist with a small ‘c’. Over the years, he championed almost as many causes as he had songs, from aiding small farmers and Native American tribes to opposing oil fracking and the big banks.
The British singer Billy Bragg said: ‘Peter Seeger towered over the folk scene like a mighty redwood for 75 years. His songs will be sung wherever people struggle for their rights.
(Based on tributes in The Guardian and Daily Mail) .