Singer/Songwriter, Activist (1919 – 2014)
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.
Additional Quotes by Pete Seeger
Do you know the difference between education and experience? Education is when you read the fine print; experience is what you get when you don't.
Down through the centuries, this trick has been tried by various establishments throughout the world. They force people to get involved in the kind of examination that has only one aim and that is to stamp out dissent.
Education is when you read the fine print; experience is what you get when you don't.
Historically, I believe I was correct in refusing to answer their questions.
I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs.
I am saying voluntarily that I have sung for almost every religious group in the country, from Jewish and Catholic, and Presbyterian and Holy Rollers and Revival Churches.
I believe that my choosing my present course I do no dishonor to them, or to those who may come after me.
I decline to discuss, under compulsion, where I have sung, and who has sung my songs, and who else has sung with me, and the people I have known.
I feel that my whole life is a contribution.
I fought for peace in the fifties.
I have sung in hobo jungles, and I have sung for the Rockefellers, and I am proud that I have never refused to sing for anybody.
I love my country very dearly, and I greatly resent the implication that some of the places that I have sung and some of the people that I have known, and some of my opinions, whether they are religious or philosophical, make me less of an American.
I want to turn the clock back to when people lived in small villages and took care of each other.
One of the things I'm most proud of about my country is the fact that we did lick McCarthyism back in the fifties.
Music is synonymous with Pete Seeger, from his family heritage to his career and political activism. His parents, Charles and Constance, musicologist and musician respectively, both taught classical music at Juilliard. His stepmother Ruth Seeger was a composer. His half siblings Mike and Peggy are both 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 sixteen. That love has informed his career and his activism. After two years of study at Harvard, he left to travel around the country, singing and mastering his craft. In 1940, Seeger met Woody Guthrie and they later formed the group the Almanac Singers. This group combined folk music with activism forthe labor movement. In 1942, he entered the Army, but spent much of his service time entertaining the soldiers by playing and singing. Once discharged in 1945, Seeger founded People’s Song, a musicians’ union combining folk music with the labor movement. He even took to the campaign trail in 1948 with his music, traveling with Progressive Party Presidential candidate Henry Wallace.
That year he also founded The Weavers, a band which found a good deal of 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 was a violation of his First Amendment rights of free speech and associations to be asked these questions by the Committee. In 1961, he was cited for and found guilty of contempt, resulting in a prison sentence which was later overturned.
Seeger draws on diverse kinds of music to create his songs, from African melodies to spirituals, and even takes passages from the Bible for songs such as “Turn, Turn, Turn.” His words cover many subjects from supporting labor to protesting war and advocating peace. His seemingly simplistic 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 came out entitled Pete Seeger: The Power of Song.
Pete Seeger’s music and activism goes further than playing concerts and producing albums. He wrote a book, How to Playthe Five-String Banjo, to teach others about his beloved instrument. He hosted a folk music show in the 1960’s called Rainbow Quest featuring other folk music singers. He founded Sing Out!, a magazine dedicated to folk music. He also launched a project in the 1960’s to call attention to thepollution in the Hudson River. He built the sloop Clearwater to sail the Hudson and work toward cleaning it up. The organization also hosts festivals to address environmental problems not only on the Hudson but elsewhere in the world.