Called "America's tuning fork" by poet Carl Sandburg, folk legend and activist Pete Seeger (1919-2014), born on this day in New York, taught the world about life with his music and helped popularize the folk genre along with his friend, Woody Guthrie.
The son of Juilliard music professors, he dropped out of Harvard in 1938 to discover America--hitchhiking and riding the rails.
"Perhaps musicians can teach the rest of the human race that life is a struggle but not a war," said the five-string banjo vituoso. With a lifetime commitment to the environment, peace, and justice, his songs are rich with history, humor, and advocacy with rousing sing-along choruses.
"An artist, any kind of artist, is also a citizen and has a citizen's responsibilities," Seeger once said.
Upon Seeger's 1996 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, actor Harry Belafonte said, "If they ever decide to put a fifth face on Mount Rushmore, I would nominate Pete Seeger. He is one of the great sons of this country."
Blacklisted in the 1950s for his protest songs and unable to sign with a major record label, Seeger's heartfelt songs were covered by others in 1962. Peter, Paul, and Mary hit it big with his labor song, If I Had A Hammer, and the Kingston Trio scored with the antiwar tune Where Have All The Flowers Gone.
"We got to get over the idea that if youíre not reaching millions, youíre a failure... We can be quite small and still be something," said the man who always believed in the power of music to bring about social change and played at rallies to support Martin Luther King, Jr. and others.
In 1966, Pete Seeger founded The Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Inc. With education, advocacy, and celebration, the organization was instrumental in cleaning up the Hudson River. Seeger was instrumental in the passage of the 1972 Clean Water Act.
"The artist in ancient times inspired, entertained, and educated," he said. "Modern artists have an additional responsibility-- to encourage others to be artists."
Your opinion matters.