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Seeger “brought politics to music”

Written By: - Date published: 9:15 am, January 29th, 2014 - 23 comments
Categories: music, Unions, us politics - Tags:

It was a life long and well lived, and he had to go sometime.  However, he will be remembered, and revisited whenever politics of the people is revitalised in culture and music.

Seeger 1919 2014

I came of age at a time when folk music, especially political folk music was considered pretty cool.  It was a time when popular music drew directly on its folk music roots as people’s music.  And it was a time when those of the left of politics knew exactly who Pete Seeger was.

Doran Lynskey of The Guardian: ‘Pete Seeger: the man who brought politics to music

But Seeger carved out his place in history with a quieter, rarer set of qualities: nobility, generosity, humility and, when things got rough, breathtaking courage. Perhaps uniquely, he became one of the most important singers in America without ever being a star, because he believed in the song rather than the singer.

Like most, I think of him and Woody Guthrie as being significantly connected.

Guthrie the charismatic Dust Bowl poet, and Seeger the man who got America singing. He didn’t have a remarkable voice but it was clear and strong and it never got in the way of the material, which was the point. A great believer in the power of communal singing, he saw himself as just a catalyst: a means to an end.

He served in WWII, but for Seeger, political battles followed the end of the war.

He was hounded, sometimes violently, by the right. His new band, the Weavers, briefly became sensations, but the Red Scare ripped them apart in 1952. And there was worse to come.

Summoned to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1955, Seeger refused to wriggle out of trouble by taking the Fifth and made himself an “unfriendly” witness. While awaiting trial for contempt of Congress, and likely imprisonment, he threw himself into the civil rights movement. It was Seeger who introduced Martin Luther King to We Shall Overcome and advised civil rights activist to form their own group, the Freedom Singers. “Songs have accompanied every liberation movement in history,” he wrote. “These songs will reaffirm your faith in the future of mankind.”

Seeger was also the forefather of the folk revival. In 1962, the same week his legal troubles were finally over, Peter, Paul and Mary took Where Have All the Flowers Gone? into the Top 40. But the revival ran away from him, thanks to Bob Dylan.


Even in old age, he kept singing, notably at President Obama’s inauguration and Occupy Wall Street. His voice may have grown shaky but it carried with it the history of the American left since the New Deal. He would have considered it neglectfully selfish to retire.

The songs remain:

Talking Union

Which side are you on?

If I had a Hammer


23 comments on “Seeger “brought politics to music””

  1. philj 1

    A beacon of hope for all mankind. Bigger than music, he epitomised decency and justice in the world.

  2. Steve Wrathall 2

    Congratulations on the crooner in making it to 94, which is a lot longer than many dissenting artists lived in regimes that he idolized.

  3. Ad 3

    Just loved him.
    Went through many of the utube links last night.
    A grand life.

  4. fender 4

    A truly great man with 100% integrity like a real life saint, very rare indeed.

  5. Ron 5

    “Kisses Sweeter than Wine”
    Still a great favourite though I preferred Jimme Rodgers version over the Weavers original

  6. captain hook 6

    I have two Pete Seegar CD’s and they will get a fair airing tonight.
    I have an e-mail address with a news service attached and they never mentioned his passing and I heard it here first. I love his music and I learned to play the banjo out of his book. Well I frailed and frailed to no avail for quite some time before I got it. And Last week I just happened to obtain A Greatest Hits of The Weavers CD plus two Vanguard Vinyl Albums. I was putting the cd onto my computer at the Library and the music came out quite loud and before you know it nearly everyone was singing along to when the saints go marching in. Serendipity!

  7. greywarbler 7

    Peter Seeger a great musician and a nice man, on stage and every place I think.
    I think the first one is This land is your land. It could be changed a little to make if apply to

    The last one is Peggy, his sister’s song, I want to be an engineer.

  8. joe90 8

    Pete Seeger’s Rainbow Quest with June Carter and a pissed/stoned Johnny Cash.

    edit: a search shows how diverse/inclusive Seeger and his music was.

  9. greywarbler 9

    I thought this was lovely with the honey voice of Peggy his sister playing her song to him on his 94th birthday.

    It’s Pete by Peggy
    and a touching one if you want to see a great old man gathering himself to broadcast his words and love of life, hopeful songs and love of people on his 94th birthday.

  10. AmaKiwi 11

    The way Pete lived life was his message.

    By most definitions I am not a Christian. But maybe I am because I believe the idealized concept we have of a man named “Jesus” is the model we have of how to live the ideal life.

    If Jesus appeared anywhere during the 20th century and walked amongst us, who was she or he?

    Martin Luther King, Jr.? Nelson Mandela? My list of nominees includes Pete Seeger.

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