Pete Seeger, the banjo playing folk singing legend, who was the voice behind famous protest songs like ‘We Shall Overcome’, ‘Where Have All the Flowers Gone?’ and inspired musicians like Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, has passed away at the age of 94.
Seeger died of natural causes at a New York hospital on January 27, reported New York Times quoting his grandson Kitama Cahill Jackson.
In a glorious eight-decade-long career that began in 1940s, Seeger beautifully mixed music with his anti-war and civil rights views and sang his songs at labour rallies.
Seeger, who is worshiped by political and cultural activists world over, performed in India twice. His most recent trip to the country was in 1996 where he had sold out concerts in Kolkata and Delhi.
Seeger, performing to a packed house in Delhi on November 12, 1996, had joked, “I will not take any requests as I am old and have come prepared with a few songs.”
However, he did take one request to sing the famous Cuban song of freedom ‘Guantanamera’ of Jose Marti. Seeger had included it in his album ‘We Shall Overcome’.
Born on May 3, 1919, in a musical family, Seeger established the folk music as an expression of social justice during the leftist folk movement.
He initially used to sing songs like ‘The Union Song’ at labour rallies but in 1950s, he also gave voice to anti-war and civil rights rallies. With time, Seeger’s name became synonymous with musical activism and Woody Guthrie appeared with him in the movement.
Seeger established himself as a member of the Almanac Singers, a group with deep ties to the US labour movement. It was reconstituted as The Weavers in the 1950s.
Seeger was blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee but unlike others, he refused to give in by declining to name personal and political associations. He was prohibited from commercial television for a decade for
expressing left-wing views through his music.
Seeger, who became a prominent figure in the 1960s civil rights movement, had a hand in adapting the 1901 Baptist hymn ‘I’ll Overcome Someday’ into the now popular anthem ‘We Shall Overcome’.
The singer, however, used to say that his only contribution to the song was replacing the word ‘Will’ by ‘Shall’. He was also vocal about nuclear disarmament, against the Vietnam War and environmental cause.
Most recently, the life-long singer-crusader was spotted marching with Occupy Wall Street protesters on his crutches at the age of 93. His contribution to music industry landed him with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1993.
Seeger had also performed on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at an inaugural concert for US President Barack Obama.
The folk legend is survived by son Daniel, his daughters, a half-sister and six grandchildren, including the musician Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, who performed with him at the Obama inaugural.