Pete Seeger was born into an old New England family in 1919. His ancestors settled in America in the 1700’s.
Mr. Seeger graduated from Avon Old Farms prep school in Connecticut, and enrolled in Harvard College. But his interest in music grew to intense, his grades faltered, and he dropped out in 1938.
Harvard’s loss was our gain, however. Mr. Seeger co-wrote classic songs such as “Where Have All The Flowers Gone”, “If I Had A Hammer”, and “Turn, Turn, Turn”. In the 1950’s and 60’s when civil rights and anti-war sentiment were at a fever pitch, these, along with his rendition of “We Shall Overcome”, were the anthems of activists and the bane of the establishment.
At one point during this era, Mr. Seeger was banned from performing on network television in the United States due to his progressive political views. He took it in stride and began touring the country, singing to young children in public schools and talking to them about the environment, racial equality, and peace. Chalk one up for Mr. Seeger.
His songs have been recorded by dozens of artists throughout the years, most likely sending hundreds of thousands of dollars in royalties his way. Still, he and his wife lived in a log cabin near Beacon, New York, all of their married life. Most of the photos of him show him wearing a chambray shirt, jeans, and a baseball cap.
Much of his time and money go to the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, a nonprofit environmental organization he founded in 1966.
He has many fans and friends in the music world. To celebrate his 90th birthday in 2009, Bruce Springsteen, Dave Matthews, John Mellencamp, Ani DiFranco and many others performed at a benefit concert in Madison Square Garden in New York.
In 2011, at the age of 92, he marched with Occupy Wall Street in New York City. At the end of the march to Columbus Circle, he performed for thousands of protesters.
His five-string banjo, which he’s played for decades, bears this inscription on its face: “This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender.”
Quite a motto. Quite a man.
Mr. Seeger’s wife, Toshi-Aline, died on July 9 of this year. They had been married since 1943. Our thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Seeger and his family.
3 thoughts on “Old Money Guy: Pete Seeger”
My wife and I were at a coffee house concert by Dar Williams in Chappaqua NY a while back. At half-time we went to the kitchen for coffee and as we were in line we heard some wonderful singing; it was Pete sitting on a stool , playing his banjo and singing – no big deal. But it was for us!
What a beautiful memory. Thanks for sharing, David. – BGT