Folk singer, activist Pete Seeger dies
Pete Seeger, the banjo-picking troubadour who sang for migrant workers, college students and star-struck presidents in a career that introduced generations of Americans to their folk music heritage, has died at the age of 94.
Seeger's grandson, Katama Cahill-Jackson said his grandfather died on Monday at New York Presbyterian Hospital, where he'd been for six days.
''He was chopping wood 10 days ago,'' he said.
Seeger - with his lanky frame, banjo and full white beard - was an iconic figure in folk music. He performed with the great minstrel Woody Guthrie in his younger days and marched with Occupy Wall Street protesters in his 90s.
He wrote or co-wrote the songs If I Had a Hammer, Turn, Turn, Turn, Where Have All The Flowers Gone? and Kisses Sweeter Than Wine.
He lent his voice against Hitler and nuclear power. A cheerful warrior, he typically delivered his broadsides with an affable air and his banjo strapped on.
''Be wary of great leaders,'' he told The Associated Press two days after a 2011 Manhattan Occupy march. ''Hope that there are many, many small leaders.''
With The Weavers, a quartet organised in 1948, Seeger helped set the stage for a national folk revival. The group - Seeger, Lee Hays, Ronnie Gilbert and Fred Hellerman - churned out hit recordings of Goodnight Irene, Tzena, Tzena and On Top Of Old Smokey.
Seeger was credited with popularising We Shall Overcome, which he printed in his publication People's Song, in 1948. He later said his only contribution to the anthem of the civil rights movement was changing the second word from ''will'' to ''shall,'' which he said ''opens up the mouth better''.
''Every kid who ever sat around a campfire singing an old song is indebted in some way to Pete Seeger,'' Arlo Guthrie once said.
Seeger's musical career was always braided tightly with his political activism, in which he advocated for causes ranging from civil rights to the clean-up of his beloved Hudson River. Seeger said he left the Communist Party around 1950 and later renounced it. But the association dogged him for years.
He was kept off commercial television for more than a decade after tangling with the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1955. Repeatedly pressed by the committee to reveal whether he had sung for communists, Seeger responded: ''I love my country very dearly, and I greatly resent this 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, or I might be a vegetarian, make me any less of an American.''
He was charged with contempt of Congress, but the sentence was overturned on appeal.
Seeger called the 1950s, years when he was denied broadcast exposure, the high point of his career. He was on the road touring college campuses, spreading the music he, Guthrie, Huddie ''Leadbelly'' Ledbetter and others had created or preserved.
He told The Associated Press in 2006 in those years ''I showed the kids there's a lot of great music in this country they never played on the radio''.
Seeger's output included dozens of albums and single records for adults and children.
He appeared in the movies To Hear My Banjo Play (1946) and Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon (1970). A reunion concert of the original Weavers in 1980 was filmed as a documentary titled Wasn't That A Time.
By the 1990s, Seeger was heaped with national honours. President Clinton hailed him as ''an inconvenient artist who dared to sing things as he saw them''.
Seeger was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996 as an early influence. In 1997 he won a Grammy for best traditional folk album, for Pete.
Seeger was born in New York City on May 3, 1919, into an artistic family whose roots traced to religious dissenters of colonial America. His mother, Constance, played violin and taught; his father, Charles, a musicologist, was a consultant to the Resettlement Administration, which gave artists work during the Depression. His uncle Alan Seeger was a poet.
Pete Seeger said he fell in love with folk music when he was 16, at a music festival in North Carolina in 1935. His half brother, Mike Seeger, and half sister, Peggy Seeger, also became noted performers.
He learnt the five-string banjo, an instrument he rescued from obscurity and played the rest of his life in a long-necked version of his own design. On the skin of Seeger's banjo was the phrase, ''This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender''.
Dropping out of Harvard in 1938 after two years as a disillusioned sociology major, Seeger hit the road, picking up folk tunes as he hitchhiked or hopped freights.
''The sociology professor said, 'Don't think that you can change the world. The only thing you can do is study it','' Seeger said in October 2011.
In 1940, with Guthrie and others, he was part of the Almanac Singers and performed benefits for disaster relief and other causes.
He and Guthrie also toured migrant camps and union halls. During World War II he served in the Special Services, entertaining soldiers in the South Pacific.
He and his wife Toshi, whom he married in 1943, raised three children by the Hudson River. Toshi Seeger died in July, aged 91.
Seeger campaigned to clean up the Hudson, and also offered his voice in opposition to racism and the death penalty.
He was jailed for five days for blocking traffic in Albany in 1988 in support of Tawana Brawley, a black teenager whose claim of having been raped by white men was later discredited. He continued to take part in peace protests during the war in Iraq, and he continued to lend his name to causes.
''Can't prove a damn thing, but I look upon myself as old grandpa,'' Seeger told the AP in 2008 when asked to reflect on his legacy. ''There's not dozens of people now doing what I try to do, not hundreds, but literally thousands. ... The idea of using music to try to get the world together is now all over the place.''