Remembering Pete Seeger, “America’s Tuning Fork”

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To anyone born after 1980, “Pete Seeger” may not be a household name. You may know him simply as that old guy who sang with Bruce Springsteen at Obama’s inauguration. But to those who lived through the Cold War, Pete Seeger was an icon in music, politics, and American life. The New York-born folk musician was known almost as much for his political activism as he was for his music. This is not to negate musical success; however, what defined Pete Seeger was his audacity to stand up for his beliefs at a time when many didn’t know what to believe in. Pete Seeger’s life is intertwined with the roller coaster that was America in the mid to late 20th century. His rise to fame in the 1930s created platform through which Seeger could share his beliefs. His political affiliation led to him being blacklisted as a communist as early as 1941. He was called to testify to the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Seeger continued his unwavering support for civil and labor rights, anti-militarism and racial equality even though his affiliations made work hard to find. In retrospect, Seeger’s songs seemed to capture the American conscience before citizens even knew how they felt.

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Seeger’s profound lyrics were sung to melodies that are credited as having a major role in the folk music revival that began in the late 1950s. Seeger embodied folk music, a genre rooted in American tradition and community. He was the mentor to some of the most famous people to come out of the genre, such as Bob Dylan, Don Mclean, Bruce Springsteen, and many more. Springsteen has highlighted Seeger’s influence on his music and American life many times over the years. At Seeger’s 90th birthday, Springsteen introduced him as “a living archive of America’s music and conscience, a testament of the power of song and culture to nudge history along.”

Pete Seeger’s career carried him from being convicted by Congress to singing at Obama’s inauguration. While the nation’s attitudes towards the folk legend might have changed through the decades, Seeger’s morals were steadfast. As President Obama stated when Seeger passed, “Over the years, Pete used his voice -- and his hammer -- to strike blows for worker's rights and civil rights; world peace and environmental conservation. And he always invited us to sing along. For reminding us where we come from and showing us where we need to go, we will always be grateful to Pete Seeger.”