I knew this day would eventually come, but it’s still hard to believe that Pete Seeger is no longer with us. He has been everywhere—for so long—that he had almost become a permanent part of my life.
For about 50 years, I’ve probably seen him hundreds of times in concert and at various events. He connected to so many people and had personal values that I treasured. He was far more than just a folk singer. He was a moral force that always seemed to make the right choices in life.
Before I was even born, Pete was a fixture on nationwide radio in the 1940s. He had a string of hit records during the early 1950s as a member of The Weavers, most notably their recording of Lead Belly's "Goodnight, Irene," which topped the charts for 13 weeks in 1950.
Members of The Weavers were blacklisted during the McCarthy Era, but Pete did the noble thing. He would not hide...or cooperate with the politicians. The government thought they had shut him up, but as a banjo teacher, he quietly helped spawn an entire generation of folk singers that actually changed the world.
In the 1960s, Pete re-emerged on the public scene as a prominent singer of protest music in support of international disarmament, civil rights, counterculture and environmental causes. He did it all.
He wrote or co-wrote so many great songs including "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" (with Joe Hickerson), "If I Had a Hammer (The Hammer Song)" (composed with Lee Hays of The Weavers) and "Turn, Turn, Turn!" These songs have been recorded by many artists both in and outside the folk revival movement and are still sung throughout the world.
Seeger was one of the folksingers most responsible for popularizing the spiritual "We Shall Overcome" (also recorded by Joan Baez and many others) that became the acknowledged anthem of the 1960s American Civil Rights Movement. It happened soon after folk singer and activist Guy Carawan introduced it at the founding meeting of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1960.
I was so lucky that I got to see a reunion of the Weavers at Carnegie Hall. That was living history at its finest hour. I interviewed Pete, reveled in his singing through the years and attended his 90th birthday party at Madison Square Garden. Like I said, he was everywhere.
Yet, through all the adulation he received, Pete was a normal guy—truly a man of the people. All the fame never went to his head. People just aren’t made like Pete Seeger anymore. It was a privilege to be alive at the same time as this great man and to learn from his towering example.