Vale Pete Seeger

“Pete Seeger was a messenger of universal love and peace. He was my first inspiration to write songs and share music in my own way. God bless,” tweeted Neil Diamond on January 28.

The grand old man of the protest movement died in New York, aged 94, earlier this week. It seems like he had been around for ever, and that his influence in music and activism spread far and wide and inspired many people in all walks of life. He was a member of the Almanac Singers (1940s) and the Weavers (1950s), but also performed as a solo artist and with various friends and colleagues. He counted some of the most famous folk singers among his friends, including the great Woody Guthrie.

During his career Pete recorded prolifically and his discography includes fifty-two studio albums, twenty-three compilation albums, ten live albums, and five singles. Little Boxes, written by his friend Malvina Reynolds and recorded as a single was a hit for him in 1963.

His compositions include Where Have All the Flowers Gone? (with contributions from Joe Hickerson and the children at Camp Woodland), If I Had a Hammer (co-written with Lee Hays of The Weavers), Kisses Sweeter Than Wine (also with Lee Hays), and Turn! Turn! Turn! (lyrics adapted from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). His songs have been sung and recorded by some of the best-known names in the music world – among them Bruce Springsteen, The Byrds, Joan Baez, The Kingston Trio, Marlene Dietrich, Johnny Rivers, Peter, Paul & Mary, and Trini Lopez.

I discovered Pete Seeger in the early 1970s. If I remember correctly I was ambivalent about his political views and his social action agenda, but I fell in love with his music, and in 1971 I bought a CBS LP, Pete Seeger’s Greatest Hits. Pete himself wrote the cover notes. He began with, ‘These are my “hits”? CBS Records picked the title of this album, not me. Now read the truth: Some of them were hits by the Weavers. Some songs were made hits by Peter, Paul and Mary, The Byrds, the Kingston Trio, Marlene Dietrich, Trini Lopez, and others. But none of them by me. My own records were collectors’ items – no one but collectors ever bought them.’ I think he was being rather modest, because the first song on the album is Little Boxes, which really was a hit, whichever way you look at it. The rest were a mix of his own compositions, protest songs, songs adapted from folk songs from various traditions, and songs which started life as poetry. Pete Seeger’s Greatest Hits became one of my favourite albums. I still have the original vinyl LP, but now I also have it in MP3 format and it plays regularly on my computer. It’s still one of my favourites, and I long ago gave up that ambivalence.

Many tributes have been written since Pete Seeger’s death. I liked:
Pete Seeger, songwriter and champion of folk music, dies at 94 – New York Times.
Pete Seeger: 10 great songs – The Telegraph (UK).
Watch Bruce Springsteen’s Moving Birthday Tribute to Pete Seeger – Rolling Stone.

Pete Seeger at Wikipedia.