“Song, songs kept them going and going;/ They didn’t realize the millions of seeds they were sowing./ They were singing in marches, even singing in jail./ Songs gave them the courage to believe they would not fail.”
Pete Seeger´s name is synonymous with music. His parents, Charles, a musicologist, and Constance, a musician, both taught classical music at Juilliard. His stepmother Ruth Seeger was a composer. His half siblings, Mike and Peggy, are musicians, and Pete has often performed with his grandson Tao, a member of the band The Mammals.
Seeger’s love affair with folk music and the banjo began at a Folk Festival he attended when he was just sixteen. After two years of study at Harvard, he left college to travel around the country, singing and mastering his craft. In 1940, Seeger met Woody Guthrie. The two would later form the group the Almanac Singers, which combined folk music with activism on behalf of the labor movement.
In 1942, Seeger entered the Army, where he spent much of his time entertaining the soldiers with his music. In 1948, he took to the campaign trail with his music, traveling with Progressive Party Presidential candidate Henry Wallace.
That same year, 1948, he also founded The Weavers, a band that had mainstream success until Seeger’s ties to the Communist Party (he was a member from 1942 – 1950) caused the group to be blacklisted. He was subpoenaed before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1955 for those affiliations. Instead of invoking the Fifth Amendment as many others had before him, Seeger took the unique stand of declaring that it the Committee´s actions were a violation of his First Amendment right of free speech.
Seeger draws on diverse musical cultures to create his songs, from African melodies to Appalachian spirituals; he even employees passages from the Bible, as in his song “Turn, Turn, Turn.” His folk music and ideas have touched the lives of people all over the world, garnering him a huge fan base and influencing many artists such as Bruce Springsteen, who in 2006 released a tribute album to Seeger called We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions. In 2007, a documentary of his life was released entitled Pete Seeger: The Power of Song.
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