Pete Seeger, singer, song writer, activists, who understood that to be a citizen of this country, took more than waving a flag. While he was a gentle, deeply humanistic being, his values were worn like battle armour. He gave no quarter while being victimized by McCarthyism in 1955 when he was summoned before the House Un-American Activities Committee. When the committee tried to compel him to name names and tell of his associations and beliefs he never wilted or flinched. Instead he stood strong against the swelling tide of McCarthy’s witch hunt and struck back.
“I decline to discuss, under compulsion, where I have sung, and who has sung my songs, and who else has sung with me, and the people I have known. I love my country very dearly, and I greatly resent this implication that some of the places that I have sung and some of the people that I have known, and some of my opinions, whether they are religious or philosophical, or I might be a vegetarian, make me any less of an American. I will tell you about my songs, but I am not interested in telling you who wrote them, and I will tell you about my songs, and I am not interested in who listened to them.” (Pete Seeger – 1955)
Countless numbers of us grew up singing songs written or co-written by Pete Seeger. “If I Had A Hammer”, “Where Have All The Flowers Gone”, “Turn, Turn, Turn” and so many others that he made popular such as “We Shall Overcome”. He said he just changed one word – he changed ‘will’ to ‘shall’ and it became the anthem of generations fighting for their civil rights.
When Pete Seeger sang we all sang. He preferred to join his voice with others as he did many times at the Great Labor Arts Exchange. He recieved the Joe Hill Award to honor his body of work in the field of labor culture. Maybe it was because his spirit inherently understood the power we have when we join together, rising up as one with a singular purpose. Sadly the struggles are not over, but we can still join our voices. We can join them with the echoes of Pete’s banjo and his voice that enveloped us – compelling us to rise and stand strong against the surge of oppression and injustice.
Pete was 94 when he died on Monday of natural causes. Toshi, his wife of 70 years died last year.
Take a moment and rejuvenate your spirit while watching this video of Pete. Of course Pete’s voice is softer than the audience, but then this would not be Pete Seeger if he sang alone. If you want to hear more of Pete’s songs, you can find them here.
Pete Seeger – Turn, Turn, Turn