The great one-man folk music institution Pete Seeger died this past Monday at the ripe young age of 94. He was a powerfully significant individual in American culture, both in terms of his ideas regarding music and his lifelong dedication to progressive politics and activism. He was a friend of such musicians as Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly and in his group the Weavers was a pre-Rock and Roll pop star with recordings such as Goodnight Irene. He was blacklisted from broadcast media in the US from the 1950s well into the late-1960s due to his refusal to testify before Congress, to whom he stated: "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 affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this." Nevertheless his concerts remained popular and he appeared until the end of his life at rallies, protests, and benefits for countless causes. I saw him perform twice, once at a miniscule protest against Pinochet's Chilean government, and once at a considerably larger "No Nukes" rally (both in Washington DC in the late 1980s). He was a stalwart civil rights supporter, popularized the banjo, wrote the song "Turn Turn Turn" which in The Byrds' version would become a classic rock staple, and in the 1960s, Seeger traveled widely, filming all manner of "world music" decades before the term was widely used (and abused). More recently Bruce Springsteen won a Grammy for one of his best records We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions (2006), inspired by Seeger's arrangements of traditional folk songs and ballads. You can read his obituary here, and the Pete Seeger Appreciation Page has a vast amount of material as well. I'm posting below a link to a very good 2007 documentary on Seeger's life and work. In the intro, Bob Dylan states: "Pete Seeger, he had this amazing ability to look at a group of people and make them all sing parts of the song. You know, make an orchestration out of a simple little song with everyone in the audience singing. Whether you wanted to or not you found yourself singing a part! ... and it would be beautiful." Rest in peace, Pete.
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