a folk-singer and political activist born in Patterson,
New York, into a family where his
father, Charles, was a musicologist and investigated non-Western
music. He is the half-brother
of Mike Seeger who formed the New Lost City
Ramblers and influenced Bob Dylan and Peggy Seeger,
who is a folk singer who lived with the songwriter Ewan
MacColl for over 30 years. His uncle Alan Seeger
was a known poet who was killed during WWI. He was a scholarship student
at Avon Old Farms and Harvard University where he studied journalism. He worked at the Archives of
American Folk Music in New York where he met Leadbelly
and Woody Guthrie, with whom he would collaborate. He had seen the five-string banjo played
in 1936 and in 1948 he wrote the first version of his book How to Play the Five-String Banjo. He married Toshi-Aline
Ohta in 1943 and they have three children and 6
grandchildren. His grandson Tao
is a folk musician with The Mammals.
He was a founder member of The Almanac Singers with Woody Guthrie,
and The Weavers which had major hits in the 1950s prior to being
blacklisted during the McCarthy years.
He was instructed to testify before the House Un-American Activities
Committee but refused stating that it would violate his First Amendment
rights. This led to an
indictment for contempt of Congress and he was forced to keep the federal
government aware of his movements.
After attending trial in 1961 he was sentenced to a year in jail but
this was overturned at appeal.
He began his career as a solo artist in 1958 and wrote songs such as
"If I Had a Hammer", “Turn, Turn, Turn” and "We
Shall Overcome". He was a
co-founder of Broadside Magazine which Bob Dylan made several recordings
for, but he was unhappy by the electronic sound that he had incorporated
into his act at the 1965 Newport Festival. He hosted the regional show Rainbow Quest in the mid-'60s and
his guests included Johnny Cash and Judy Collins. In 1966 he funded the Hudson River
Sloop Clearwater which works to highlight pollution in the Hudson
River and clean it.
He performed several songs in the late 1960s which were deemed
unsuitable for broadcasting and had a performance of "Waist Deep in
the Big Muddy" cut from the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. He appeared in a National
Storytelling Festival in Tennessee
and in 2006 Bruce Springsteen released the album We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions. His awards include the National
Medal of the Arts, Kennedy Center Lifetime
Achievement Honor, Harvard Arts Medal, a Grammy Award for "Pete" and he was inducted
into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996. He performed live right up until at
least September 2013 when he appeared at Farm Aid. In January 2014 he was taken into
the Presbyterian Hospital
in New York and died
peacefully while sleeping just six days later.
Guantanamera (Jose Marti/Pete Seeger/Hector Angulo)