Pete Seeger, the American folk singer, songwriter and activist died on 27th January. He was 94 years old. Known for hits like ‘We shall Overcome’ and ‘Turn!Turn!Turn!’, he believed that music could change the world and make it a better place to live.
Music ran in his blood as his father Charles Seeger and mother Constance de Clyver (née Edson) both were highly literate in music and composition. Even his step-mother Ruth Crawford Seeger was his father’s music student and assistant. His first instrument was the Ukulele in which he became adept enough to entertain his classmates at school. Pete heard the five string banjo for the first time in the summer of 1936 while travelling with his parents. The banjo went on to become his trademark instrument for the rest of his life. His book ‘How to Play the 5-string Banjo’ became the bible for almost all budding banjo players. He played the 12 string guitar and the harmonica as well.
Seeger was one of the pioneers of the movement for revival of folk music in America. He wrote an influential column for Sing Out! and co-founded Broadside. Broadside published Bob Dylan songs. Johnny Cash introduced Dylan to the audience at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival with, “We think he’s the best songwriter of the age since Pete Seeger.”, from which we can very well gauge Seeger’s standing with his contemporaries.
All throughout his life, Seeger continued his support for civil and labour rights, racial equality, anti militarism and peace. His strong faith was reflected in his songs and he believed that the songs could help people achieve these goals. He was not only a singer but a social activist. His songs contain messages which reach out to the people. ‘We shall overcome’ became a pivotal song in the civil rights movements during the sixties, ‘Waist deep in big muddy’ was popular during the protests against the Vietnam war, ‘Where have all the flowers gone?’, ‘Bring ‘em home’ and ‘If I had a hammer’ also contain messages and their words have almost been etched in stone.
He believed in people’s ability to make good of situations and that the world can be changed with music. He said,” I feel that my whole life is a contribution.” He stuck to his belief and stayed active even at the ripe age of ninety years. His last stage performance was at Farm Aids at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in Saratoga Springs, NY on 21st September, 2013.
Seeger passed away peacefully in his sleep at NY’s Presbyterian Hospital where he had been admitted or six days.
Pete Seeger was an inspiration, almost a father figure to many. His passion for music and goodwill nature was a candle in the darkness, the light of which many followed. A legend in his own right, the world has lost an angel.