Pete Seeger has walked on from natural causes at the age of 94 near his home in Beacon, New York, leaving behind a world immeasurably better for his time in it.
Indians don’t commonly call elders by their first name, but Pete was always Pete and so he shall always be. His life was a sound track of the labor movement, the anti-war movement, and the civil rights movement.
He shared the copyright for We Shall Overcome, but he never took money from it, contributing all royalties from the most commonly sung “freedom song” to the Highlander Research and Education Center.
He contributed his talents to the movement to free Leonard Peltier, among many other persons locked up in disputes with governments. Like many decent people, he spent the fifties on the black list. His last major brush with censorship was his appearance on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in 1967, from which his song Waist Deep in the Big Muddy was cut until a public outcry reversed the decision in 1968.
His only popular recording success was with The Weavers in the fifties, before they were blacklisted, with songs like Goodnight, Irene and Kisses Sweeter than Wine, but he wrote many songs that became hits for others, like If I Had a Hammer, Where Have All the Flowers Gone?, and Turn, Turn, Turn.
In his later years, the time most people would call retirement, he took on the “Clearwater” campaign to shame the corporations that had rendered the Hudson River unfit for fish or people.
His colleague in the forties, Woody Guthrie, famously inscribed his guitar “This Machine Kills Fascists.” Pete inscribed the head of his banjo “This Machine Surrounds Hate and Forces it to Surrender.”
Pete Seeger was predeceased last year by his wife of almost 70 years, Toshi. He leaves behind a son, two daughters, six grandchildren, a great-grandson and a well-lived life. As Pete walks on, we can’t improve on the words of his picking buddy, Woody Guthrie: So long, Pete, it’s been good to know you.