Folk music legend and left-wing activist Pete Seeger passed away yesterday at the age of 94. Seeger’s passing comes only six months after the death of Toshi, his wife of 70 years.
Seeger first came to public prominence in the late 1940s as a member of The Weavers who were best known for their hit “Goodnight Irene”. But his time at the top of the charts was short-lived after his refusal to testify before HUAC. Seeger’s music was effectively barred from radio and was unable to perform on television except for public broadcast channels.
Seeger was, of course, a Communist. Indeed, his father was a member of the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) a.k.a. The Wobblies. But you knew where you stood with him for better or worse. At his best, he gave the Civil Rights Movement with “We Shall Overcome” and made considerable efforts towards cleaning up the Hudson River. The late Harry Chapin captured this spirit in his 1979 tribute song “Old Folkie”.
Seeger could also admit when he was wrong as he did a few years back when he wrote Ron Radosh a letter regretting not having spoken out against Stalin’s gulags. This didn’t impress Mark Steyn, but better late than never. Then again, at his worst, he embraced the foolishness of both Occupy Wall Street and the BDS against Israel.
Nevertheless, Seeger leaves an imprint that has influenced generations of folk musicians. When I think of Pete Seeger’s music, I think of his adaptation of the Book of Ecclesiastes which resulted in “Turn! Turn! Turn!” The Byrds recorded the most famous version of Seeger’s adaptation but so did a young Carly Simon along with her older sister Lucy. The Simon Sisters were accompanied on bass by Bill Lee (the father of Spike Lee). I leave you with Seeger taking his turn at “Turn! Turn! Turn!” with Judy Collins.