Pete Seeger biography
Born on May 3, 1919, American folk singer Pete Seeger is a 20th century iconic figure, who is best known for his contributions to the American folk music revival. He wrote the hits "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" and "Turn, Turn, Turn," which have since been recorded by several other artists. Seeger has also been an engaged activist, supporting such causes as international disarmament, civil rights and environmental awareness. For his established career as a musician and activist, Seeger has received three musical Grammy Awards and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, among various other honors.
American folk singer Pete Seeger was born in New York City on May 3, 1919, into a family of musicians. His father, Charles Seeger, taught music for some time at the University of California, Berkeley; and his mother, Constance (de Clyver Edson) Seeger, taught violin at The Juilliard School. Seeger's brother, Mike, would eventually become a member of New Lost City Ramblers; his sister, Peggy, would become a performing folk musician, alongside Ewan McColl.
A precocious child, Seeger developed was well-read and began developing political and social ideas at an early age. After receiving an early education at Avon Old Farms, a Connecticut boarding school, Seeger enrolled at Harvard University on a scholarship in 1936. After only two years at Harvard, however, he failed an exam and lost his scholarship, so he dropped out. He spent the rest of the 1930s as a vagabond, hitchiking and riding on freight trains around the country.
During this time, Seeger also focused on writing music. By 1940, Seeger organized a folk quartet called the Almanac Singers, which frequently featured Seeger's friend and fellow folk musician, Woody Guthrie. The Almanac Singers released several albums in the early 1940s. In 1942, however, the group's musical progress was stopped short, when Seeger was drafted into the Army to aid the country in battle during World War II. Not long after, the group disbanded.
When the war ended, in 1945, Seeger went back to his musical career, performing folk songs and helping to found the magazine Sing Out! A few years later, in 1948, he formed the Weavers, which included Lee Hays, Ronnie Gilbert and Fred Hellerman. The group produced several albums in the early 1950s of standard folk songs, including "On Top of Old Smoky," "Follow the Drinking Gourd" and "The Wreck of the John B," and even appeared in a 1951 film musical, Disc Jockey. The group also wrote and recorded several original songs, including "If I Had a Hammer" (1949) and "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine" (1950).
The group's success was halted, however, when speculation rose regarding Seeger's leftist political ideals, culminating with the band's designation as a Communist group by FBI informant Harvey Matusow (who later retracted his statement). After a short break from 1952 to 1955, which was largely due to the negative press, the Weavers officially disbanded in 1962 (Seeger broke from the Weavers in 1958).
The negative press surrounding Seeger and his politics deepened in 1961, when he was convicted for contempt of Congress—a judgement that was based on earlier questioning by the House Committee on Un-American Activities, regarding Seeger's political activities, and his subsequent refusal to answer. Seeger's musical career seemed to look even less promising, following the conviction, which was overturned in an appeal in 1962.
Seeger continued to perform and record as a solo artist, however, producing such hit songs as "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" (1961) and "Turn, Turn, Turn" (1962)—which was later released as a single by folk-rock group The Byrds on the album Turn! Turn! Turn! (1965).
Against all odds, Seeger ignored the publicity that had earlier been spurred by his politics, participating in the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1960s, and his reputation gradually improved. In 1966, Seeger recorded an antiwar anthem, "Bring 'Em Home"—a song that was later recorded by Bruce Springsteen—which includes lyrics opposing the Vietnam War: "For defense you need common sense/Bring them home, bring them home/They don't have the right armaments/Bring them home, bring them home."
Seeger soon became a revered American folk musician and college-campus icon. Following a long list of albums in the 1960s, including God Bless The Grass and Dangerous Songs!?—both released in 1966—he published a literary, historical piece about folk music, civil rights and performers from the 20th century called The Incompleat Folksinger (1972). Throughout the rest of the 1970s, and into the 1980s, Seeger frequently performed with fellow folk singer-songwriter Arlo Guthrie, the son of folk legend Woody Guthrie. During that same period, he worked with other activists to remove pollution from the Hudson River and create the environmental organization Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, which, among many projects, hosts festivals that help to fund the river's pollution maintenance.
Recent Years and Legacy
Today, Seeger is regarded as a 20th century iconic figure, and a pivotal part of the 1960s American folk music revival. According to the Encyclopedia of Folk, Country, and Western Music, Seeger was a "father figure whose contributions as an artist and writer were highly valued by people of all ages in and out of the music field."
Seeger became the recipient of several high honors in the 1990s. In 1993, he received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. A year later, he was awarded a National Medal of Arts, and in 1996, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Following the release of his album, Pete (1996), he won a Grammy Award (for best traditional folk album). That same year, Seeger published his autobiography, Where Have All the Flowers Gone.
Nearly a decade later, Seeger received his second Grammy Award (for best traditional album), for his 2008 album, At 89. That same year, he performed at President Barack Obama's inaugural celebration. At the age of 91, Seeger released the abum Tomorrow's Children (2010), which he recorded with a group of students and dedicated to environmental awareness.
For the album, Seeger won his third Grammy Award (for best musical album for children).
In May 2012, Seeger celebrated his 93rd birthday. He continues to work as an activist, supporting such causes as international disarmament, civil rights and environmental awareness.