Pete Seeger would have been 100 on May 3rd

I have no love of communism but as my father was one himself, I make distinctions between those who turned towards the Soviet Union in the 1930s on the one hand and Lenin and Stalin on the other. It was an evil but within it all there is a softness I have always felt towards Pete Seeger, whom I first heard perform at my summer camp in 1955 because he was at the time unable to perform anywhere else in North America. And from that moment, I loved his voice, his music and the banjo, which I still play, sort of. And I have also given my grandchildren a banjo of their own so that when they turn 100 and are asked where did you get that banjo, they can say it was given to them by their grandfather on the day they were born.

This post is dated May 3, 2019: Happy Birthday, Pete Seeger.

Pete provided much of the soundtrack for the political awakening of several generations of activists. The songs he wrote, including the antiwar tunes, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” “If I Had a Hammer” and “Turn, Turn, Turn,” and those he has popularized, including “This Land Is Your Land” and “We Shall Overcome,” have been recorded by hundreds of artists in many languages and have become global anthems for people fighting for freedom. He introduced Americans to songs from other cultures, like “Wimoweh” (“The Lion Sleeps Tonight”) from South Africa, “Tzena, Tzena” from Israel (which reached number two on the pop charts), and “Guantanamera” from Cuba, inspiring what is now called “world music.”

Thanks to Seeger’s influence, protest songs — via folk, rock, blues, and soul genres — became popular and even commercially successful. He recorded over eighty albums — of children’s songs, labor, civil rights, and antiwar songs, traditional American folk songs, international songs, and Christmas songs. Among performers around the globe, Seeger became a symbol of a principled artist deeply engaged in the world.

Even if I do not in any way share his politics, I love his music which has deep deep meaning to me. What more is there to say than that? Well, perhaps there is this: the vile idiots on whose website this post was found are themselves a menace and evil to the core. If you are looking for a fight, it is these people you should take on and not the memory of one of the greatest folk singers who has ever lived. It would be as idiotic as refusing to play God Bless America sung by Kate Smith because of something she had said or done back in the 1930s.

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