Folk Singer Who Fought for Labor Unions, Civil Rights, Died Monday at 94
Pete Seeger, who died Monday at 94, left behind a massive legacy not just as a folk musician, but also as an agent for social change. His songs, which supported and inspired the organized labor, civil rights, environmental and anti-war movements, still resonate today. Through his music and actions, Seeger helped leave the world a better place.
SEA member John Corrigan said that he and others who love music with a message were mourning his death but also celebrating his long and inspiring life.
“When I lived in New York City from 1978 to 1981, his Thanksgiving concerts at Carnegie Hall became a tradition,” Corrigan said. “It included the Weavers reunion in 1980. I also heard him sing at anti-nuclear rallies, and enjoyed the Clearwater Festivals on the Hudson River. I also saw him perform with Arlo Guthrie. For me, the highlight of the 2009 inaugural celebration was his duet with Bruce Springsteen on Woody Guthrie’s ‘This Land is Your Land.'”
“My earliest memory of him was his appearance at the Vietnam Moratorium mass rally in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 15, 1969,” Corrigan said. “He led half a million people in singing John Lennon’s ‘Give Peace a Chance.'”
SEA Director John Hattan said Seeger was a genuine performer who was excellent at getting audiences involved.
“With him, it was all very seamless – his songs were reflective of a well-lived life,” Hattan said. “He truly embodied everything that he was writing about.”
In other words, he wasn’t just singing about activism, he was often out in front. Seeger marched in and performed at hundreds of labor rallies over the years, and when he stood up for a cause, he did so without fear of how it would affect him.
“Pete stood up for peace, justice and human rights,” Corrigan said. “He faced down the red-baiters who put him on the blacklist. They seemed to believe that calling someone a ‘communist’ was the end of the debate.”
The “red-baiters” Corrigan is referring to were the members of the House Un-American Activities Committee, which ruthlessly tried to root out Communist sympathizers. Instead of seeking the protection of the 5th Amendment, Seeger took the committee head on.
“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,” Seeger testified. “I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this.”
For his stance, Seeger was indicted for contempt of Congress and sentenced to a year in prison, though the sentence was later overturned.
“He was a true American and citizen of the world who defined true patriotism,” Corrigan said.