Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Tuesday Concert: “Forever Young” with Pete Seeger

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on January 28, 2014

At The Atlantic, Andrew Cohen sums up the lesson of Seeger’s long and eventful life:

You can say that you didn’t like his music or complain that his embrace of Communism did not end soon enough (or did not end at all). You can say that that he should not have gone to Vietnam in 1972 or that he should have been more critical of Castro’s Cuba. There are plenty of political criticisms you could make about the man, his life, and his legacy.
But what made his life remarkable weren’t his political beliefs—right or wrong there are plenty of people with such beliefs.  It was the countless selfless acts he took in honor of those beliefs.  Here was a man who dedicated the entirety of his long life to profound social issues, a man unafraid to take controversial positions on the biggest issues of his age even when those positions were not popular or expedient.  “I believe that there are things worth saying,” he would say and, of course, he was right.
So Pete Seeger was there in the 1950s singing about the perils of McCarthyism. When he was (naturally) brought in for questioning by the House Committee on Un-American Activities he did not plead the Fifth Amendment and refuse to answer questions. Instead, courageously, he denounced the Committee’s efforts to question him about his political and religious beliefs. For this he was convicted and blacklisted from television and radio.
And Pete Seeger was there during the civil rights movement, on the march from Selma to Montgomery, for example, or in Mississippi singing for the Freedom Riders—singing for Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman—during the fateful summer of 1964. Here’s a photo of him in Meridien, singing to the kids who would help change a nation (and, in some cases, lose their lives). 
And Pete Seeger was there during the Vietnam War, singing about the need to bring American troops home. When CBS infamously censored his rendition of “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy” in 1967 he waited and came back one year later and sang the song on television. Forty years later, the censors gone, he was there singing protest songs about the Iraq War.
His critics often called Pete Seeger anti-American. I think the opposite was true. I think he loved America so much that he was particularly offended and disappointed when it strayed, as it so often has, from the noble ideals upon which it was founded. I don’t think that feeling, or the protests it engendered, were anti-American. I think they were wholly, unabashedly American.

History will be much kinder to Pete Seeger than it will be to many of his critics.



9 Responses

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  1. Bob Nelson said, on January 28, 2014 at 11:47 am

    Back in the 60s at North Central College, I worked on the stage crew at Pfeiffer Hall. One of our assignments was to set up for concert series programs — lighting, sound, etc. As a result, I got to meet a number of folk artists including Pete, Peter Paul & Mary, the New Christy Minstrels, Kingston Trio and others when they performed at the college. Most people don’t know that Pete Seeger was one of the first folk musicians to popularize the 12-string guitar. After hearing Pete around 1964, my roommate and I made a commitment to actually learn to play these guitars we had. We practiced every night, even learned to “Travis pick” with a thumb pick and two finger picks and formed a little group. Great times, great memories. RIP Pete. Here’s a link to a performance he did with Johnny Cash many years ago. Enjoy.

  2. Roger Moore said, on January 28, 2014 at 12:34 pm

    Thanks for honoring Pete this way. He was an American treasure.

  3. corkingiron said, on January 28, 2014 at 12:46 pm

    Nice, Andy. Well done. Very well done.

  4. Rob Wick said, on January 28, 2014 at 5:15 pm

    As much as I liked Seeger as an individual artist (and I loved Bruce Springsteen’s “Seeger Sessions” CD) I liked the music of The Weavers even better. It’s a damn shame what happened to them just because of right-wing insanity.


  5. Patrick Young said, on January 28, 2014 at 6:15 pm

    Nice piece to put up. Pete taught a lot of us that there was a “People’s History” of American music. I can still sing dozens of songs I first heard on his albums. The show the humor, insightfulness, and toughness of our evolving people. He was also a man who earned a living by singing, but who supported many an unpopular cause with his voice.

    And if you lived in New York, he taught you to appreciate our great river and natural environment.

  6. Valerie said, on January 28, 2014 at 7:20 pm

    Thanks, Andy, for your beautiful tribute. And Pete, thanks for everything.

  7. Duane Whitlock said, on January 29, 2014 at 6:49 am

    I enjoyed his music although I did not agree with his politics. Unlike politicians today, he was totally honest about his beliefs and for that I respected the man. Besides, he taught me to play the banjo and every time I pick it up, he will be remembered. So long Pete, it’s been good to know ya…

    Thanks Andy, nice tribute.

  8. Sahaphap said, on January 29, 2014 at 10:46 am

    Truly sad news about Pete Seeger, one of the true greats. Given that he was 94, it’s not unexpected, but I’d still rather hoped he was secretly immortal. R.I.P. Pete Seeger.

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