Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A fond farewell to folk singer, activist, legendary Pete Seeger.

Pete Seeger, young banjo player and folk singer.
 Pete Seeger, troubadour and activist for more than a half-century, has taken his banjo to the afterlife.

The iconic banjo-picking musician who sang for migrant workers, college students and several presidents and introduced folk music to generations of Americans, died Monday at the age of 94. He slipped away peacefully in his sleep around 9:30 p.m. surrounded by family members.

With his lanky frame, use-worn banjo and full white beard, Seeger was an iconic figure in folk music who outlived most of his peers. He performed with the great troubadour Woody Guthrie and wrote or co-wrote "If I Had a Hammer," ''Turn, Turn, Turn," ''Where Have All the Flowers Gone" and "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine." He protested against Hitler and nuclear power. Pete Seeger was a cheerful, soft spoken storyteller with fingers ever poised over the strings of his famous banjo.

Peace was a message Seeger spread through song his entire life.

Seeger was credited with popularizing "We Shall Overcome” which he sang while proudly walking alongside Martin Luther King Jr. "Every kid who ever sat around a campfire singing an old song is indebted in some way to Pete Seeger," Arlo Guthrie once said.

His musical career was always braided tightly with his political activism, in which he advocated for causes ranging from civil rights to the cleanup of his beloved Hudson River. 
He took the sloop Clearwater, built by volunteers in 1969, up and down the Hudson, singing to raise money to clean the water and fight polluters.

"The most important job I did was go from college to college to college to college, one after the other, usually small ones," he told The Associated Press in 2006. " ... And I showed the kids there's a lot of great music in this country they never played on the radio."

Seeger often stated that “The idea of using music to try to get the world together is now all over the place."

His famous banjo.
Seeger's legacy included movies and dozens of albums for both adults and children.

He appeared in the movies "To Hear My Banjo Play" in 1946 and "Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon" in 1970. A reunion concert of the original Weavers in 1980 was filmed as a documentary titled "Wasn't That a Time."

The official Washington crowd sang along -- the audience must sing was the rule at a Seeger concert -- when it lionized him at the Kennedy Center in 1994. President Bill Clinton hailed him as "an inconvenient artist who dared to sing things as he saw them."

Seeger was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996 as an early influence. Ten years later, Bruce Springsteen honored him with "We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions," a rollicking reinterpretation of songs sung by Seeger. A 2009 concert at Madison Square Garden to mark Seeger's 90th birthday featured Springsteen, Dave Matthews, Eddie Vedder and Emmylou Harris among the performers. Bruce Springsteen claimed that Seeger was an early influence and gave him the title “Father of folk music”.

Seeger remained active to the end.

Seeger maintained his reedy 6-foot-2 frame into old age, though he wore a hearing aid, used a cane and conceded that his voice had sounded better in his youth. He relied on his audiences to make up for his weakened voice, feeding his listeners the lines and letting them sing out.

"I can't sing much," he said. "I used to sing high and low. Now I have a growl somewhere in between."

Nonetheless, in 1997 he won a Grammy for best traditional folk album, "Pete."

"He was chopping wood 10 days ago," his grandson recalled. He was active to the very end.

He was born to a creative family.

Seeger was born in New York City on May 3, 1919, into an artistic family. His mother, Constance, played violin and taught; his father, Charles, a musicologist, was a consultant to the Resettlement Administration, which gave artists work during the Depression. His uncle Alan Seeger, the poet, wrote "I Have a Rendezvous with Death."

Pete Seeger said he fell in love with folk music when he was 16, at a music festival in North Carolina in 1935. His half-brother, Mike Seeger, and half-sister, Peggy Seeger, also became noted performers.

He learned the five-string banjo, an instrument he rescued from obscurity and played the rest of his life in a long-necked version of his own design. On the skin of Seeger's banjo was the phrase, "This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender". Dropping out of Harvard in 1938 after two years as a disillusioned sociology major, he hit the road, picking up folk tunes as he hitchhiked or hopped freights.

"The sociology professor said, 'Don't think that you can change the world. The only thing you can do is study it,'" Seeger said in October 2011.

He married Toshi Seeger on July 20, 1943. The couple built their log cabin in Beacon after World War II and stayed on the high spot of land by the Hudson River for the rest of their lives together. For, much of that time, they had no water or electricity. Pete and Toshi liked to live a simple life. The couple raised three beautiful children. 

Pete and Toshi Seeger,

His beloved Toshi died in July, 2013 at age 91. At her funeral service, Pete spoke from his heart...

"A time to hug, a time to kiss

A time to close your eyes and wish.

Thanks to my wife Toshi, without whom the world would not turn nor the sun shine."

Thank you for your musical legend, dear Pete Seeger. 

You will be missed.

Nancy Burban 2014

Funeral fund


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