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Pete Seeger, singer/songwriter, champion social justice thru political activism

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Peter "Pete" Seeger left this world yesterday at the age of 94. His grandson, Kitama Cahill Jackson, who said his grandfather died of natural causes at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, confirmed his death, according to the New York Times tribute. Seeger was born on May 3, 1919, in Patterson, New York. His spouse of nearly 70 years, Toshi Seeger, passed away in 2013.

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President Obama released a statement today on the passing of Seeger: "Once called 'America’s tuning fork,' Pete Seeger believed deeply in the power of song. But more importantly, he believed in the power of community – to stand up for what’s right, speak out against what’s wrong, and move this country closer to the America he knew we could be."

Obama continued, "Over the years, Pete used his voice – and his hammer – to strike blows for worker’s rights and civil rights; world peace and environmental conservation. And he always invited us to sing along. For reminding us where we come from and showing us where we need to go, we will always be grateful to Pete Seeger."

In finishing, Obama said, "Michelle and I send our thoughts and prayers to Pete’s family and all those who loved him."

All those that loved him are the world of folk music. While Seeger left this world, he did leave behind his music. Seeger recorded and published 40 albums, including two last years. Songs such as "We Shall Overcome" that became an anthem for the Civil Rights movement after its release in 1963. There were also such iconic tunes as "Where Have All the Flowers Gone," which became not just an anti-Vietnam song, but also an antiwar song.

He blared out "Turn! Turn! Turn!" a song that was torn from the pages of the bible's Book of Ecclesiastes. Seeger wrote dozens of other songs, including "The Hammer Song (If I Had a Hammer), "This Land is Your Land," "Goodnight Irene," "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy," a “Big Rock Candy Mountain" were just a few of the lasting treasures he left.

While Seeger was first and foremost a singer/songwriter, he changed the world with his inspiring folk music and used his music to advance his political activism.

The New York Times said that the Seeger "spearheaded an American folk revival and spent a long career championing folk music as both a vital heritage and a catalyst for social change, died Monday. He was 94 and lived in Beacon, N.Y."

The Los Angeles Times said he was "equally musician and revolutionary, playing a major role in the folk music revival that began in the late 1950s."

Seeger started out in the late 1940's as a member of the Weavers. Members of the group included Lee Hays, Ronnie Gilbert and Fred Hellerman. The popular group disbanded in the 1950's when they fell victim to the "Red Scare" initiated by Republican Wisconsin U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee targeted the Weavers and managed to stop their music and social activism, at least temporarily.

At least for a time, until Seeger made his comeback in music and political activism. In the 1960s, Seeger re-emerged on the public scene as a prominent singer of protest music in support of international disarmament, civil rights, counterculture and environmental causes. He was convicted in 1961 of contempt of Congress, based in part of his offer to testify by singing. The conviction was later overturned and Seeger continued his journey.

Seeger travels took him everywhere, said the New York Times. From Pete Seeger's "singing at labor rallies to the Top 10 to college auditoriums to folk festivals, and from a conviction for contempt of Congress (after defying the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s) to performing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at an inaugural concert for Barack Obama."

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Sources:

New York Times - Pete Seeger tribute

Los Angeles Times - Pete Seeger

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Send John Presta an email and your story ideas or suggestions, johnpresta@att.net.

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