Pete Seeger, the folk singer and social justice advocate who popularized “We Shall Overcome” as an anthem of the Civil Rights movement, wrote “Turn! Turn Turn!” and whose career spanned more than seven decades, has died. He was 94.
Bruce Springsteen called him “the father of American folk music.” In a concert at Madison Square Garden celebrating Seeger’s 90th birthday, Springsteen introduced him by saying “he’s gonna look a lot like your granddad that wears flannel shirts and funny hats. He’s gonna look like your granddad if your granddad can kick your ass. At 90, he remains a stealth dagger through the heart of our country’s illusions about itself.”
Seeger was a 1939 Harvard dropout who scored hits with the Weavers and was a compadre of Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly in the 1940s. He became a political hero for his refusal to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s and his roles in the 1960s civil-rights and antiwar movements, and he has served as an iconic, banjo playing grandfather figure to the folk community for as long as anyone can remember.
In 1998, he told The Philadelphia Inquirer that he didn’t like think of himself as having a “career.”
“That word implies seeking fame and fortune,” the co-writer of “If I Had A Hammer” and “Where Have All The Flowers Gone?” said at the time of the release of a tribute album named after the latter on Appleseed Recordings, which was his label for almost two decades. “I’ve just got jobs to do. My main purpose as a musician is to put songs on people’s lips, not just in their ear”
On Tuesday, Jim Musselman, the head of Appleseed, said in a statement: said that Seeger “will live on in the hearts and minds of so many for years to come. His vision of peace and justice and equality for all will live on and continue to influence. Like a ripple that keeps going out from a pond Mr. Seeger’s music will keep going out all over the world spreading the message of non-violence and peace and justice and equality for all. Wherever people are fighting to be free or fighting for equality Pete’s songs and Pete’s vision will be there with them.”
British folk singer Billy Bragg once said of Seeger: “Pete is the living link to Woody. But to me, they’re two very different artists. It’s best described by what Pete has written around his banjo, and what Woody had scrawled over his Martin. Pete’s says, ‘This machine surrounds hate with love and forces it to surrender.’ Woody’s says, ‘This machine kills fascists.’ One of them is a beautiful poetic ideal, and the other is almost a punk-rock attitude.”
Seeger made music of unflagging optimism, often singing for children. Songs associated with him like “Old Dan Tucker” were the basis for Springsteen’s 2006 album “The Seeger Sessions.”
“People often say to me, ‘Don’t you get discouraged? Are you some kind of pollyanna?” Seeger, who frequently broke out into song during interviews, told the Inquirer. “I tell them that I say ‘the hell with it’ every night around 9:30, then I get up the next morning. Besides, if you sing for children, you can’t really say there’s no hope.”
Copyright 2014 The Philadelphia Inquirer