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People’s songster Pete Seeger dies

By Tom Burke

Grand Rapids, MI – Singer and folk music icon Pete Seeger passed away today, Jan. 28. Seeger was known for popularizing folk songs and signing everywhere he went. Peter Seeger united peoples in song across the entire society. Children in schools, teenagers at summer camps, worshippers in churches, workers on strike picket lines, civil rights marchers in the South and anti-war protesters across the country and over the decades lifted their voices to sing with Pete Seeger. Always an internationalist, Seeger helped not only to launch the American folk music revival, but folk music revivals in other countries like Australia too.

Pete Seeger was more than a folk musician. He dedicated his life to ending oppression and exploitation. When the going got tough, Seeger appeared to lift people’s spirits and strengthen their resolve.

Seeger joined the Young Communist League in 1936 at the age of 17. He advocated and sang for the U.S. to join the fight against Hitler once the Soviet Union was invaded. He joined the Communist Party in 1942, the same year he was drafted into the U.S. Army, where he continued singing for the troops. The next year he recorded Songs of the Lincoln Battalion in honor of the American revolutionaries who fought fascism in Spain before World War II. After the army, Seeger helped create People’s Songs, an organization that promoted music and songs about workers and the people’s struggles.

In the face of McCarthyism and Cold War political repression, Seeger refused to back down. He was blacklisted from performing with the hugely popular Weavers on radio and television. With the Hollywood Ten already convicted and imprisoned for refusing to testify and being ruled in contempt of Congress, Seeger took a principled stand at the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings. He was eventually convicted of contempt in 1961 and sentenced to ten years, but the sentence was later overturned on appeal in 1962.

During the African-American Civil Rights movement, Seeger played an important role reaching white audiences, thus changing hearts and minds. He also appeared at countless rallies against the U.S. war in Vietnam and visited Vietnam with his family in 1972, before the final defeat of the U.S. and its puppets.

From If I Had a Hammer to Where Have All the Flowers Gone? to Turn! Turn! Turn! Pete Seeger is remembered today and for years to come.

In Seeger’s words, “A good song reminds us what we’re fighting for.”

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