Folk singer and activist, Pete Seeger, passed away Monday in New York after a brief illness. The legendary singer/songwriter accomplished so much in his 94 years that it is difficult to catalog all of them in just one article.
He first gained fame as a member of The Weavers in the late 1940's. The group had success with recordings of Seeger & Lee Hayes' "If I Had A Hammer," as well as "Kisses Sweater Than Wine" and Woody Guthrie's "So Long (It's Been Good to Know Yuh)." Their recording of a cleaned-up version of Ledbelly's song, "Good Night Irene," reached the top of the charts.
In the 1950's Seeger's political leanings got him in trouble with the House Un-American Activities Committee, a committee that was un-American, itself.
Seeger had briefly been a member of the Communist Party, but had left the party years before the hearings. He was subpoenaed by the Committee and testified, "I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private matters. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this."
He did offer to sing the songs mentioned by the Congressmen on the committee, but they declined.
He was indicted and convicted of contempt in 1961, but the this was dismissed in appeals court a year later.
But, the damage had been done and The Weavers disbanded. Seeger was black listed from television.
He began playing concerts wherever he could. His concerts brought more and more people into the folk music camp. His concerts were often picketed by the John Birth Society and other like-minded groups.
He commented, "The more they protest; the bigger the audiences became."
He headed south to participate in the civil rights protests. He became inspired by an old gospel song called, "I'll Overcome," and it's slower version sung by striking tobacco workers called "We Will Overcome."
The musician changed the title to, "We Shall Overcome" and added extra verses. This became the anthem of the civil rights movement
He returned to TV and performed a protest song about the Vietnam war, "Waist Deep In the Big Muddy," on "The Smothers Brother Comedy Hour" in 1967. CBS cut the performance from the broadcast, but the brothers publicized the censorship and Seeger was invited back to perform his song.
Through all this turmoil, Seeger remained optimistic. He told an interviewer in 1974, "The key to the future of the world is finding the optimistic stories and letting them be known."
Seeger was also one of the founders of the Newport Folk Festival. He remained politically active until recently. He was involved in causes such as nuclear disarmament, ecology and the Occupy movement.
He has won numerous awards over his long career. Perhaps the most prestigious is his National Medal of the Arts.
Seeger said in a 2009 interview, "My job is to show folks there's a lot of good music in this world, and if used right, it may help to save the planet."