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Pete Seeger

January 08, 2008
by findingDulcinea Staff
One of the most famous folk musicians and activists of all time, Pete Seeger has been on the scene for more than six decades. He’s written his fair share of famous songs as well as a children’s book; he’s stood up against war and for clean water; and he didn’t win his first Grammy until he was nearly 80 years old.

Folk Laureate

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Seeger’s first group was the Almanac Singers, which formed in 1940 and included famous folk singer Woody Guthrie. Seeger was also a member of the folk group The Weavers, and went on to record many solo albums. Among the Weavers's recordings are a live concert recording at Carnegie Hall in New York, and a reunion concert at the same venue in 1963.

Although Seeger only had one of his recordings enter the Billboard Top 100 (“Little Boxes,” in 1964), he has penned songs made famous by other artists, such as Peter, Paul, and Mary; Joan Baez; and the Kingston Trio. Listen to clips of Seeger’s work on Amazon.com, including greatest-hits compilations, concert recordings, and collections of traditional American ballads. Some of Seeger’s songs are also available for streaming on Last.fm.

Finally Famous

Seeger was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996. Its Web site posts a full timeline of Seeger’s musical achievements.
One year after his induction, Seeger was awarded his first Grammy: Best Traditional Folk Album, for “Pete.” Just before the Grammy came a Lifetime Achievement award from the Recording Academy in 1993.
For more on Seeger’s life, the authoritative All Music Guide publishes information on his beginnings in music, his activism, and his influence, venturing to say, “Perhaps no single person in the 20th century has done more to preserve, broadcast, and redistribute folk music” than Seeger.

Political Trendsetter

An article in City Journal credits Seeger with being one of the first instances of the “politicization of pop," because of the popular recordings of songs that he’d written.

All Aboard

In 1966 Seeger played an integral role in the efforts to clean up the Hudson River (and the environment) in association with the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Inc. This group uses the sloop Clearwater to take groups along the Hudson to teach them about the environment and explore the history of the area.

On the List

Because of his membership in the Communist Party, in 1955 Seeger was called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Because he refused to cooperate in naming other party members, he was found to be in contempt of Congress. The ruling was later overturned.

Of Parties and the Peacemaker

Like many of his contemporaries, Seeger did not speak out about the brutality that occurred in the Soviet Union during Stalin’s regime. When the latest documentary on the singer, Jim Brown’s Pete Seeger: The Power of Song, was released in theaters earlier this year, it was thought by many to be a refreshing new depiction of the singer. But the historian Ron Radosh reflected in the New York Sun that, while it was in many respects a new addition to Seeger’s politicized and largely progressive history, the film did not include any “repentance” from Seeger for his Communist affiliation of yore. After a correspondence with Seeger in which Radosh received just that from him, Radosh reaffirmed, also in the Sun, that the oft-awarded peacemaker “believes in bringing people together for good works, and in reconciliation.”

In Tribute

In April 2006, Bruce Springsteen released a collection of songs associated with Seeger or in Seeger's folk tradition, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions. Springsteen performed a series of concerts, based on those sessions, to sellout crowds. Springsteen had previously recorded one Seeger favorite, "We Shall Overcome," on the 1998 Where Have All the Flowers Gone tribute album.

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