America lost a national treasure last night with the passing of folksinger/songwriter Pete Seeger. The ninety-four year old entertainer and political activist died peacefully in his sleep at a hospital in New York. His wife, Toshi, to whom he had been married seventy years, passed away last year at the age of ninety-three.
Pete Seeger wrote some of the most memorable songs that comprise the soundtrack of America. He and collaborator Lee Hays penned the iconic "If I Had a Hammer" in 1949, a song that did much to give voice to the anti-war movement in the 1960's. Another Seeger song, "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" was also an anti-war classic that was recorded by many artists. Other hits written by Pete Seeger include "Turn, Turn, Turn" and "Kisses Sweeter than Wine."
The legendary musician was active in social and political causes for nine decades. At one time he toured union halls and small town venues with Woody Guthrie, and he later took his music and activism to college campuses around the nation.
Seeger was a member of the Communist Party in the 1930's but dropped his official membership after becoming disillusioned with Stalin. He was held in contempt of Congress in 1955 for refusing to testify before the infamous House Un-American Activities Committee, and for years was blacklisted and kept off of the American airwaves. The Smothers Brothers broke that blacklist in the 1960's when they brought him onto their television show to perform.
The unstoppable Mr. Seeger marched in an "Occupy Wall Street" protest in 2011 - with the aid of two canes and a guitar strapped across his back!
Seeger once famously said that he had sung for hobo jungles and Rockefellers - and that he had never refused to sing for anyone.
President Bill Clinton described Pete Seeger as being "an inconvenient artist who dared to sing things as he saw them."
Today President Obama paid this tribute to Pete Seeger:
"Once called 'America's tuning fork,' Pete Seeger believed deeply in the power of song. But more importantly, he believed in the power of community -- to stand up for what's right, speak out against what's wrong, and move this country closer to the America he knew we could be. Over the years, Pete used his voice -- and his hammer -- to strike blows for worker's rights and civil rights; world peace and environmental conservation. And he always invited us to sing along. For reminding us where we come from and showing us where we need to go, we will always be grateful to Pete Seeger. Michelle and I send our thoughts and prayer to Pete's family and all those who loved him."
Beautiful words for a beautiful person. We are all a little richer for the years Pete Seeger spent among us.
Rest in peace, old timer. You defined it and you earned it!