Good-bye Pete: Social Activist & Singer Passes Away at 94
By Tyson Kelsall, Culture Editor
Pete Seeger sang labour tunes and jumped freight trains with Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly in the 1940s, and attended the Occupy Wall Street protests, cane in hand, in 2011. The American banjo-playing folk singers’ presence in social activism spanned over eight decades. For years the highly-principled, but gentle mannered Seeger was blacklisted by American authorities for his associations with communism in the early 1950s. In that time, however, he toured from campus to campus to spread his message. Although Guthrie did not pass away until 1967, he was in bad health by the late 1940s. It was Seeger who shared a glimpse of his working-class songs with the American student population. Seeger was also a founding member of the Weavers, who would later reach international fame and success. Seeger, not one to compromise his beliefs for recognition, separated himself from the band due their participation in a Lucky Strike cigarettes commercial. In that instance, he exchanged the lifestyle of a highly paid pop singer for a musical career built on the foundations of hardline ethics. As reported by the New York Times, Pete Seeger also sang at many anti-Vietnam war protests. In the early 1960s, he adapted a song called “We Shall Overcome,” which became a sort of anthem at social justice events.
On the 27 January 2014, Seeger passed away in his sleep. His grandson told the Associated Press that just ten days before he had been chopping wood in the backyard. In addition to his role as a social activist, Seeger was also an environmentalist. In 1969, he sailed the Hudson River with a group of musicians demanding the river be cleaned up. In 2009, General Electric finally started clearing up the water they had polluted.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Seeger ended up touring with the son of his good friend, Arlo Guthrie. He wanted to show the everyone that there was good, meaningful music in the world. In 1994, he said, “the key to the future of the world, is finding the optimistic stories and letting them be known.” Through song, many people around the world have been touched by Seeger’s faith in a better world. He received many awards and accolades, with recognitions ranging from Grammy Awards to Cuba’s Order of Félix Varela.
On top of all of his crusading and populist rousing, he was also a family man. His wife, Toshi, passed away less than a year ago in 2013. They had been married for 69 years, and he is survived by all three of his children. Seeger’s presence is already missed in many circles, and undoubtedly within his family and friends, but his music and words will be remembered for a very long time. Seeger had sung songs representing the people of America since the 1940s, certainly he still has lot to offer us, and the future. Good-bye Pete, rest in power.