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Famous Like Me > Composer > S > Pete Seeger

Profile of Pete Seeger on Famous Like Me

Name: Pete Seeger  
Also Know As:
Date of Birth: 3rd May 1919
Place of Birth: New York, New York, USA
Profession: Composer
From Wikipedia, the free Encyclopedia
Pete Seeger, 1944

Peter Seeger (born May 3, 1919 in New York City), almost universally known as "Pete Seeger", is a folk singer and political activist. He was a major contributor to folk and pioneer of protest music in the 1950s and the 1960s. He is perhaps best known as the author or co-author of the songs "Where Have All the Flowers Gone", "If I Had a Hammer", and "Turn, Turn, Turn", which have been recorded by many artists both in and outside the folk revival movement and which are still sung all over the world. "Flowers" was a hit recording for The Kingston Trio (1962), Marlene Dietrich, who recorded it in English, German and French (1962), and Johnny Rivers (1965), as "If I Had a Hammer" was a hit for Peter, Paul & Mary (1962) and Trini Lopez (1963), while The Byrds popularized "Turn, Turn, Turn," in the mid-1960's.

His father Charles Seeger was a musicologist and an early investigator of non-Western music. His siblings Mike Seeger and Peggy Seeger also had notable musical careers. Half-brotherMike Seeger went on to form the New Lost City Ramblers. Pete Seeger attended Avon Old Farms in Connecticut and then Harvard University until he left in the mid-1930's during his sophomore year. In 1943 he married Toshi-Aline Ohta, whom he credits with being the support that made the rest of his life possible. Pete and Toshi have three children, Danny, Meka and Tinya.


Image:Quotation icon.gif "Arlo, folk songs are serious."
—Pete Seeger to Arlo Guthrie

Seeger met and was influenced by many important musicians such as Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly during the late 1930s and early 1940s after dropping out of Harvard, where he was studying journalism. He met Woody at a "Grapes of Wrath" migrant workers concert and the two thereafter began a musical collaboration.

He was a founding member of the folk groups The Almanac Singers with Woody Guthrie and The Weavers with Lee Hayes and Ronnie Gilbert. The Weavers had major hits in the early 1950s, before being blacklisted in the McCarthy Era. In 1954, Pete was subpeoned to testify at the House Committee for UnAmerican Acitivits(HUAC) where he refused to name personal and political associations stating it would violate his First Amendment Rights.

Seeger started a solo career in 1958 (see 1958 in music), and is known for songs such as "If I Had a Hammer" (co-written with Lee Hays), "Turn, Turn, Turn" (adapted from Ecclesiastes), and "We Shall Overcome" (based on a spiritual).

In the 1960s, Seeger wrote the first version of his now-classic How to Play the Five-String Banjo, a book that many banjo players credit with starting them off on the instrument.

An early advocate of Bob Dylan, Seeger was incensed over the distorted electric sound Dylan brought into the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, especially with the inability to clearly hear the lyrics. There are many conflicting versions of exactly what ensued, some claiming that he actually tried to disconnect the equipment; Seeger's own version is that when the sound man refused to try to reduce the distortion he exclaimed "Goddamn it, if I had an ax, I'd cut the cable."

Seeger is involved in the environmental organization Clearwater, which he founded in 1966. This organization has worked since then to highlight pollution in the Hudson River and worked to clean it. As part of that effort, the sloop Clearwater was launched in 1969 and regularly sails the river as classroom, stage and laboratorywith an all-volunteer crew. The Clearwater Festival is an annual two-day concert held on the banks of the Hudson in Croton Point, New York.

As a member of the Old Left, Seeger is known for his communist political beliefs, formed before Nikita Khrushchev exposed the crimes of Stalin. Political opponents called him by pejorative names such as "Stalin's Songbird". His supporters called him "America's Tuning Fork" and "A Living Saint". (Zollo 2005) An example of Seeger's pro-Soviet and pro-Stalin attitude can be seen during the period of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the short-lived alliance between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. His anti-war record Songs for John Doe, released in 1941, where he called President Franklin D. Roosevelt a warmonger who worked for J.P. Morgan, expressed his displeasure about FDR's increasingly confrontational attitude with Nazi Germany. Like most members of the CPUSA, Seeger was opposed to any action against Hitler from the time of the signing of the non-aggression pact until it was broken by Operation Barbarossa on June 22, 1941. After the breaking of the pact, Seeger along with the rest of the Almanacs, ordered all copies of "Songs for John Doe" be recalled and destroyed. Only a few copies exist to this day. After the invasion of the Soviet Union, Seeger returned to his earlier stance as a strong proponent of military action against Germany; he was drafted into the Army, where he served honorably in the Pacific. Seeger left the Communist Party in 1950, five years before Nikita Khrushchev's Secret speech revealed Stalin's crimes and led to a mass exodus from the Party. He became an anti-Stalinist but retained his belief in Socialism.

Seeger achieved some notoriety in 1967 and 1968 for his song "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy", about a captain—a "big fool"—who drowned while leading a platoon on maneuvers in Louisiana during World War II. Seeger performed the song on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour after some arguments with CBS about whether the song's lyrics were objectionable. Although the on-air version left out the last two verses, which were the most explicitly political, the song remained clearly an allegory about the U.S. under the leadership of Lyndon Johnson which was in over its head in the Vietnam War.

Another slight against Lyndon Johnson can be heard in Seeger's seemingly juvenile song, "Beans in My Ears" from his album Dangerous Songs!? in which he accuses "Mrs. Jay's little son Alby" (Alby Jay is meant to sound like LBJ) of having beans in his ears, or of not listening to the people.

In May 2005, Republican politician Tom Delay, whose nickname is "The Hammer" (partly because he once had a pest-control business in Texas), led a group of conservative Republicans singing a modified version of "If I had a hammer". After this was broadcast on NPR, one listener wrote the network to suggest Pete Seeger would be offended to learn a group of Republican politicians were using his words. The network subsequently interviewed Seeger, who seemed more amused than offended.


  • "I like to say I'm more conservative than Goldwater. He just wanted to turn the clock back to when there was no income tax. I want to turn the clock back to when people lived in small villages and took care of each other."
  • "My father, Charles Seeger, got me into the Communist movement. He backed out around '38. I drifted out in the '50s. I apologize [in his recent book] for following the party line so slavishly, for not seeing that Stalin was a supremely cruel misleader."
  • "I still call myself a communist, because communism is no more what Russia made of it than Christianity is what the churches make of it. But if by some freak of history communism had caught up with this country, I would have been one of the first people thrown in jail."
  • "Plagiarism is the basis of all culture." Seeger quoting his father.
  • "Any darn fool can make something complex; it takes a genius to make something simple."

This content from Wikipedia is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Pete Seeger