Skip to: site menu | section menu | main content

Welcome To Democracy And Socialism .Com

Things should be made as simple as possible, but not any simpler

- Albert Einstein

Pete Seeger (1919- 2014)

Pete Seeger

In the first month of 2014, America lost its legendary progressive folk singer, writer, and labour activist Pete Seeger.

Peter (Pete) Seeger was born on May 3rd, in New York City. His parents were both musicians, and social activist. His father Charles Seeger was a Harvard-trained composer, and his mother Constance a violinist, was trained at the Paris Conservatory of Music.

Pete Seeger’s family upbringing, along with witnessing hard hit people under the capitalist system shaped his career as an astounding musician of revolution and change.

Charles and Constance divorced when Pete was seven; their father took custody of Pete and his two older brothers.

At the age of 13, Pete Seeger became a subscriber of The New Masses, an American Marxist magazine, and at 17, he joined The Young Communist League. In 1938, he left Harvard College to focus in music and politics. In the summer of 1939, Seeger toured with the Vagabond puppeteers, where he polished his performance skill. The vagabond puppeteer was a puppet theatre, inspired by rural education campaigns of post-revolutionary Mexico. One of their shows coincided with a strike by dairy farmers. The group became involved in discussions with dairy farmers, who had become aware of the power that lies in solidarity. The farmers wanted to build strong unity between themselves and city workers, which would provide the best guarantee for their future successes.

In 1940, Seeger met Woody Guthrie at a “Grapes of Wrath” migrant-worker benefit concert; they helped form The Almanac Singers, a loosely organized musical group that included Sis Cunningham, Song Terry, Brownie McGhee, Lee Hays, Millard Lampell, Bess Hawes, Arthur Stern, and others. The group recorded pro-union, anti-war, and anti-fascist songs.

With the start of WWII, Almanac gained swift popularity and respectability. They appeared on a coast-to-coast radio broadcast; meanwhile William Morris Advertising Agency offered to help with publicity.

Seeger became a member of Communist Party USA in 1942. The same year he was drafted into the US Army to aid the country in its fight against Fascism. In 1943, on his first leave from the Army, Seeger Married his lifetime wife, Toshi-Aline Ota (1922-2013), an activist, and filmmaker. They had 4 children, their first child, Peter Ota was born in 1944, and died at six months of age while Seeger was serving in Pacific and never saw his baby boy.

As Seeger was serving his country, FBI was active in building a big file against him and other members of Almanac. However the group fell apart in 1943.

Disillusioned by the policy and personal cult of Stalin in the Soviet Union, Seeger left the Communist Party USA, in 1949. But as he stressed in a January 22, 1995 interview with the New York Times Magazine “I still call myself a communist”, he remained committed to the cause of socialism until his death.

In 1950, Seeger, Lee Hays, Fred Hellerman, Ronnie Gilberts, Frank Hamilton, Bernie Krause, and Erik Darling formed The Weavers and enjoyed immediate success. But their success was plunged by red-baiting and blacklisting. Their performances were cancelled, and they were not allowed to appear in television shows. As Seeger later described, life became hard for he and his family.

In 1955, Seeger was subpoenaed by the House of Un-American Activities Committee. He refused to answer any question, and argued that the first Amendment of the US Constitution gave him the right to do this, he said: "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 think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this."

In 1956, Pete Seeger, Arthur Miller, and six others were indicted for contempt of Congress. In 1961, Seeger was sentenced to one year in prison. The following year his ordeal ended when the case was dismissed on a technicality.

Seeger was strongly against the Vietnam War and war policies of Lyndon Johnson. He was a leading figure in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Seeger opposed United States post Vietnam wars especially Iraq wars of G.H. Bush, and G.W. Bush.

Seeger was a long time environmentalist, particularly concerned about pollution of Hudson River.

During the last decades of his life Seeger performed frequently at the benefit concerts for social and environmental causes. He was always part or at the leadership of social and political movements. On October 21st, 2011 his solidarity with Occupy Wall Street Movement led him to participate with his fellow musicians in march to Columbus Circle in Manhattan, New York City.

One of Seeger’s last performances, along with Harry Belafonte, Jackson Browne, Lonnie Rashid Lynn, Jr. (Common), and others, was at a December 2012 concert in New York City to bring awareness to the 38 year-long imprisonment of Native American Activist, Leonard Peltier.

Seeger died on January 27, at New York City Presbyterian Hospital, where he was admitted six days before his death. He was 94.

Seeger has received many Awards, including 1979, Eugene V. Debs Award, and Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (1993).

Some of his selected discography

  • Sea Songs, 1948

  • Darling Correy, 1950

  • American Folk Songs for Children, 1953

  • Frontier Ballads, 1954

  • Goofing- Off Suite, 1954

  • How to Play the 5-String Banjo, 1954

  • Bantu Choral Folk Songs, 1955

  • Love Songs for Friends and Foes, 1956

  • American Ballads, 1957

  • Gazette. Vol.1

  • American Play Parties, 1959

  • Champlain Valley Songs, 1960

  • Story Songs, 1961

  • 12-String Guitar as Played by Lead Belly, 1962

  • We Shall Overcome, 1963

  • Songs of Struggle and Protest, 1964

  • Dangerous Songs!? 1966

  • Wimoweh and Other Songs of Freedom and Protest, 1968

  • Rainbow Race, 1973

  • Circles and Seasons, 1979

  • Folk Songs for Young People, 1990

  • American Industrial Ballads, 1992

  • Pete, 1996

  • If I Had a Hammer: Songs of Hope and Struggle, 1998

  • American Folk, Game and Activity Songs, 2000

  • American Favorite Ballads, Vol. 1-5, 2002-8

  • At 89, 2008

  • Pete Seeger at Bard College, 2009

  • Tomorrow’s Children (Pete Seeger and the Rivertown Kids and Friends), 2010

  • The Complete Bowdoin College Concert, 2012

  • A More Perfect Union, 2012

  • Pete Remembers Woody, 2012

  • The Storm king-Stories, Narratives, Poems, 2013

Some of his books:

  • How to Play the 5-String Banjo: A Manual for Beginners, 1954

  • The Incompleat Folksinger, 1972

  • Abiyoyo: Based on a South African Lullaby and Folk Story, 1986

  • Everybody Says Freedom, 1989

  • Where Have All the Flowers Gone, 1993

  • Pete Seeger Storytelling Book, 2000

  • Abiyoyo Returns, by Pete Seeger, Paul DuBois Jacobs, 2001

  • One Grain of Sand: A Lullaby, 2002

  • Some Friends to Feed: The Story of Stone Soup, 2005

  • The Deaf Musicians, 2006

Back to top