Folk singer Pete Seeger, who established the music as an expression of community, conscience and social justice during a career that spanned eight decades, has died. He was 94.
Seeger’s inspiration spanned baby boomers and just about every other generation during his long life.
Perhaps more than any performer, Seeger was instrumental in popularizing the traditional American folk repertoire. Many of the country’s most loved songs were passed along via Seeger’s voluminous recordings of them; his album discography runs to over 100 titles.
He viewed the sharing of folk songs as a democratic act. To participate in singing songs together – which Seeger encouraged in the group sing-alongs that were an inevitable feature of his concerts – was to participate in the inner workings of the country itself.
The banjo-plucking tenor’s name was synonymous with musical activism from the very beginning. Reared in the leftist folk movement of the 1940s, where he appeared alongside such iconic figures as Woody Guthrie, he established himself as a member of the Almanac Singers, a group with deep ties to the U.S. labor movement.
Seeger was briefly a major pop star in the early 1950s: His quartet the Weavers recorded a slickly produced version of Lead Belly’s “Goodnight Irene” that rivaled Patti Page’s “The Tennessee Waltz” as the biggest single of 1950.
In 1958, Seeger wrote these words which seem appropriate to share on his passing:
To my old brown earth
And to my old blue sky
I’ll now give these last few molecules of “I.”
And you who sing,
And you who stand nearby,
I do charge you not to cry.
Guard well our human chain,
Watch well you keep it strong,
As long as sun will shine.
And this our home,
Keep pure and sweet and green,
For now I’m yours
And you are also mine.