Pete Seeger has died aged 94.
The American folk singer and musician died in a New York hospital after a short illness, his grandson Kitama Cahill-Jackson confirmed (via BBC News).
Born in New York City on May 3, 1919, Seeger said he fell in love with folk music when he was 16, at a music festival in North Carolina in 1935. He learned the five-string banjo and after dropping out of Harvard in 1938, he hitchhiked around America, where he met Woody Guthrie and joined the Almanac Singers, who performed benefits for disaster relief and other causes.
Seeger’s initial success came with The Weavers, who formed in 1948. He wrote or co-wrote political anthems ‘If I Had A Hammer,’ ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’, ‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone’ and ‘Kisses Sweeter Than Wine’ and is credited with making while ‘We Shall Overcome’ an anthem of resistance.
Seeger was blacklisted in the 1950s for his left-wing activism and denied broadcast exposure. After this, he toured US college campuses to spread the music and ideology of the folk protest movement.
“The most important job I did was go from college to college to college to college, one after the other, usually small ones,” he told The Associated Press in 2006. “…And I showed the kids there’s a lot of great music in this country they never played on the radio.”
Throughout his career, Seeger became a figurehead for numerous political causes – from nuclear disarmament to the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011. His influence continued down the decades – in 1996 he was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame and a decade later Bruce Springsteen released ‘We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions’ – a reinterpretation of the folk singer’s songs. At this weekend’s Grammys (2014), he was nominated in the Best Spoken Word category, which was won by Stephen Colbert.
A 2009 concert at Madison Square Garden to mark Seeger’s 90th birthday featured Springsteen, Dave Matthews, Eddie Vedder and Emmylou Harris among the performers.
Photo: Rex/Globe Photos