Pete Seeger, who has died at age 94, will be remembered as a musician and activist who over a career spanning seven decades used his spirited voice to inspire political and social change.
As recently as 2011, Seeger, a veteran of the labor, peace and civil rights movements, led an Occupy Wall Street protest through Manhattan. “Be wary of great leaders,” he said two days after the march. “Hope that there are many, many small leaders.”
Seeger played a key role in the folk music revival that began in the 1950s and helped create songs that served as the backdrop for the tumultuous events of the 1960s, including “We Shall Overcome,” “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” “Turn! Turn! Turn!” and “If I had a Hammer.”
During the Great Depression, Pete Seeger and his friend Woody Guthrie traveled together from town to town, Seeger with his banjo and Guthrie with his guitar, singing songs in exchange for meals. Later, Seeger came to New York where he played in support of unions and against fascism. Throughout his life, and especially during the McCarthy era, Seeger’s folk songs and affiliations with the left, attracted the attention of those in power who branded Seeger a dangerous radical.
In this clip from a 1994 interview, Seeger tells Bill that music has a power that, even after decades of playing it, he still doesn’t fully understand. “All I know,” he says, “is that throughout history, the leaders of countries have been very particular about what songs they want sung, so some people, beside me, must think songs do something.”