By Kathlyn Wright
Monday evening, Jan. 27, famed folk singer Pete Seeger, died as he lived … peacefully.
I only became totally aware of him a few years ago, although I had been singing his songs for more than 50 years.
Seeger started his musical career with the Almanic Singers in 1941, and in 1948, with a singing group called “The Weavers.” His instrument of choice was a five-stringed banjo. On the skin of his banjo was the phrase, “This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender.” In 1955, he was blacklisted from appearing on radio and television by the House on Un-American Activities because he believed in communist/socialist issues. The lyrics of some of his songs drew the attention of federal investigators, who thought that, used in songs, words such as “peace” and “freedom” were codes for left-wing subversives and communists.
The ban on appearances for him lasted about 12 years, until 1967, when the Smothers Brothers fought to have him on their program. Even then, his song, “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy,” which was an anti-Vietnam War song, even though it never mentions Vietnam, was cut out of the program. He did get to sing it on the show five months later.
He was always a performer for the people. During his period of being banned, he was very active on college campuses, giving folk music a higher profile, as well as singing for high-profile groups and presidents. All of his concerts involved the people in the audience singing along with him.
Seeger stood for rights of the people, civil rights, peace and environmental issues. He marched with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the song “We Shall Overcome,” which Seeger adopted from an early American gospel song from 1948, became a civil rights anthem. In 2011, using two canes, he led an Occupy Wall Street protest, a 2-mile march through Manhattan. He continued to perform through September 2013.
He and his wife lived in a cabin on a mountainside overlooking the Hudson River, which they had built after World War II. They later built a larger house on the same property where they raised their three children. His grandson said Pete was out chopping wood 10 days before he died. His wife, Toshi, died in July 2013.
Some of the songs he wrote or co-wrote are: “If I Had a Hammer,” “Turn, Turn, Turn,” “Where Have all the Flowers Gone?,” “God’s Counting on Me and God’s Counting on You,” and he made many other songs part of the American music culture.
Not everyone, of course, agrees with his politics or the way he lived his life, but to me, Pete Seeger is a hero. He stood up for freedom of speech, lived with the consequences, and continued to contribute to American society. He believed in peace, but continued to fight for the rights of our freedoms. I believe we have lost another great man.
Kathlyn Wright is a Rockford resident. She noted: “Some of my facts were taken from the Huffington Post and The Washington Post.”
From the April 23-29, 2014