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The World According To Pete Seeger: A Remembrance

Musical icon and activist Pete Seeger died Monday at age 94. We listen back to our 2003 interview with the American legend.

Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan perform at Washington, D.C.'s Lincoln Memorial during the January 2009 Inaugural Celebration. (Getty Images)

Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen  perform at Washington, D.C.’s Lincoln Memorial during the January 2009 Inaugural Celebration. (Getty Images)

Social activist, songwriter and champion of American folk music Pete Seeger died yesterday at 94.  He went in his lifetime from blacklisted champion of the working man to American legend.  He wrote or revived many of the biggest songs in American folk:  ”If I Had a Hammer,” “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” “Turn, Turn, Turn” – and the civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome.”  Ten years ago, we talked with Pete Seeger.  His flame was burning bright.  This hour On Point:  Pete Seeger has passed on.  We listen back to Pete Seeger.

– Tom Ashbrook 


Pete Seeger Singer, Songwriter, Activist and Peace Advocate.

John McCutcheon , folk musician and storyteller. (@mccutcheonfolk)

Rob Rosenthal, sociology professor at Wesleyan University. He and his son Sam Rosenthal worked with Pete Seeger on the book “Pete Seeger: In His Own Words.”

From Tom’s Reading List

New York Times: Pete Seeger, Songwriter and Champion of Folk Music, Dies at 94 – “In his hearty tenor, Mr. Seeger, a beanpole of a man who most often played 12-string guitar or five-string banjo, sang topical songs and children’s songs, humorous tunes and earnest anthems, always encouraging listeners to join in. His agenda paralleled the concerns of the American left: He sang for the labor movement in the 1940s and 1950s, for civil rights marches and anti-Vietnam War rallies in the 1960s, and for environmental and antiwar causes in the 1970s and beyond. ‘We Shall Overcome,’ which Mr. Seeger adapted from old spirituals, became a civil rights anthem.”

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  • Vandermeer

    R.I.P. Pete!

  • nj_v2

    Oh, man… Somehow, i missed this. Terrible news, but what a life! Thanks for the program.

    If y’all haven’t seen the documentary on the Weavers, Wasn’t That a Time, it’s a very sweet film. An hour well spent.

    Someone (from Germany, apparently) has put it up on the YouTube:


    RIP, Pete! We’ll have an ear to the sky listening for you leading sing-alongs with the angels.

  • northeaster17

    The guy had vision and he had guts. What a life.


    Pete Seeger’s career was harmed when he refused to submit to McCarthyist terror in the 1950s. Yet he never abandoned his role as truth teller. Eventually, society realized he was right and, in his later life, revered him as the national treasure. Truth tellers aren’t always appreciated in their time (just ask Ralph Nader), but they serve a crucial function to civilized society.

    • northeaster17

      His career may have been hurt in the 50′s but he was the last one standing. Looking down on all their graves. Literally and figuratively.

      • Janet James

        Or, as Bruce Springstein said, “Well Pete, you did it. You outlived the bastards”

  • 1Brett1

    I plan to sing “He Was a Friend of Mine” in his honor this Friday night…

    Whether one agrees with his politics or not, he was a man of honor…it remains to be seen if he was the one who took an axe to the cable when Dylan introduced his electric set at Newport in ’63, though. ;-)

  • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

    Pete Seeger’s spirit lives on in my heart.

  • jefe68

    R.I.P. Pete Seeger, a true free spirit.
    He was blacklisted during the McCarthy era which I hope is not forgotten when he is remembered today.

  • geraldfnord

    In anticipation of the inevitable Red-baiting, appropriate in basic message but way off in tone, that I think we’ll see here:

    I don’t understand how he could have stayed with the C.P.U.S.A. as long as he did…the Molotov-von Ribbentrop Pact should have done it. As for joining, though, well, if your mother seemed like she might be dying and only one credible-seeming doctor would even admit that she were ill, you might not pay close enough attention to the treatment he claimed were the only way forward.

    (I despise the Marxists for believing that only leeches will save the patient, when I know that only my Patent Phlogiston Poultice will do the trick.)

    He at least had the good graces not to veer all the way over afterward, as many did (just as they had initially veered from one strict religion or another to ‘Communism’), and he had the good grace to be embarrassed afterward. He told a story, once, about having assisted in 1941 with the Almanac Singers (I believe) creating and album (a literal album back then) of anti-war discs—-the Pact being in force back then, the Communist Party was with the America Firsters in promoting our keeping out of the war…but they hadn’t been released when Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, at which point they all said ‘Thank God.’ and wrote a bunch of pro-interventionist songs…and laughed at himself when he told it.

    (Note: I can read Céline and listen to Wagner and Strauss Minor; Zhdanov was off-base.)

    And listening to the news, some days, I almost can’t get his rendition of “The Banks are Made of Marble” out of my head some days.

  • daff

    A bright light has gone out. Pete personified hope, peace and respect for nature and human rights. He’ll live forever in song and spirit.

  • J__o__h__n

    Why not have a ten minute tribute to him at the end of the show and mention that the full interview is available on line rather than rerun the entire hour?

    • nj_v2

      Because he’s a national treasure and more people are likely to listen to this re-broadcast than to the archived version? It’s the least he deserves.

  • tncanoeguy

    Regarding him voting for Hoover, I was the same way in 1984 – 18 years old and voted for Reagan – didn’t know any better.

    • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

      In 1980, my first vote ever was for John Anderson. :)

  • DrTing

    Doing what he loves, doing what he is good at and doing what is useful can benefit the society and the world.

  • Dale Rogers

    RIP Pete Seeger. I first heard him in the 3rd grade. He’s been with me my whole life. He’s family. You’ll be missed.

  • monicaroland

    A great man has passed on to the Music of the Ages. My sister and I were greatly privileged to meet Mr. Seeger and his beloved wife, briefly, a few years ago at his annual music festival on the Hudson River. He was gracious to each and every stranger who approached him.

  • carl_christian

    Pete Seeger, a more true & compassionate American than we’re likely to see again for a very long time — and a better economist than Tyler Cowen will ever be because he understood the full spectrum of what it means to be free — it always comes with responsibility; to understand, to share, to engage, to surround hatred & fear wherever & whenever it is encountered, and to sing!

  • TheDailyBuzzherd

    A sad day for music, American and world culture.

    Yes, a sad day for labor as well. That movement lost one of its most vocal supporters.

  • John_Hamilton

    This is Tom Ashbrook at his best, a masterful hour. Though we mourn Pete Seeger, today we celebrate his life, and by so doing spread the example he set. To every thing there is a season.

  • Caroline

    I was saddened to hear of the death of Pete Seeger. What a courageous person. He gave all of us an example of joy rather than anger in activism.

  • dontlookup

    As a teenager, I mourned the death of my first musical hero, Buddy Holly. A few years later, I saw Pete Seeger for the first time at a guitar show in NYC, where he accompanied a sing-a-long on banjo, and I found a new hero. Pete represented all that is generous and forward-looking in the American spirit.

  • randyc

    Anybody remember his fall 1967 apopearance on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour? They invited him on to sing “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy,” then got into what was probably their biggest brouhaha w/ CBS & its censors over the lyrics; the first verses are about a horribly botched training exercise in which several marine recruits drowned, but in the last stanza shifts focus to refer to what the singer reads in the newspapers (read: Viet Nam) and concludes “…We are waist deep in the Big Muddy/And the big fool says to push on!” Don’t actually recall if the brothers had to compromise or if Seeger got to sing it unbowelderized. Before long the Smothers Brothers would take themselves way too seriously for an ostensible TV comedy show, but Seeger’s appearance seemed a battle worth fighting. RIP.

  • dontlookup

    Thanks for reminding us that wing-nuts have free speech rights, too!

    How ’bout it everybody? Who’s voting for Pete Seeger and who’s voting for Joe McCarthy?

    • Cary Fulbright

      I’ll vote for McCarthy over Seeger, if that’s your question

      • dontlookup

        Paranoia strikes deep
        Into your hearts it will creep …

      • habinero

        Dontlookup, what is the color of the sky in your world?

  • jefe68
  • B.J.D

    Hes serenading Stalin in the hereafter now.

    • habinero

      Sorry…but Pete is the direct opposite of Stalin.

      • B.J.D

        Yeahh .. not so much. You should read up on what Seeger thought of East German folk singer and dissident Wolf Biermann. Seems like good ol Pete thought the GDR had every right to throw Biermann in jail for his thought crimes.

    • Randall Frank

      Everyone I know says replying to trolls like you isn’t worth the effort (and if I was more like Pete I’d be able to resist), but let’s leave it at the fact that millions of people around the world are mourning the loss of of one of most decent, kind, generous and important Americans to have graced this earth. How many people will notice when you’re (or I’m) gone? And, by the way, try looking up Pete’s “Big Joe Blues” for his final thoughts on Stalin.

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