Pete Seeger

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Seeger, Pete

(Peter Seeger), 1919–2014, American folksinger, composer, and environmentalist, b. New York City. Seeger, a son of musicologist Charles Seeger and violinist Constance Edson Seeger, stepson of composer Ruth Crawford SeegerSeeger, Ruth Crawford,
1901–53, American composer and folklorist, b. East Liverpool, Ohio, as Ruth Porter Crawford, studied American Conservatory, Chicago; stepmother of Pete Seeger and mother of Mike and Peggy Seeger.
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, and nephew of poet Alan SeegerSeeger, Alan,
1888–1916, American poet, b. New York City, grad. Harvard, 1910. During World War I he served in the French Foreign Legion and was killed in battle in 1916. He is famous for his war poem, "I Have a Rendezvous with Death.
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, left Harvard in 1938, met LeadbellyLeadbelly,
nickname of Huddie William Ledbetter,
1885–1949, American singer, b. Mooringsport, La. While wandering through Louisiana and Texas, he earned a living by playing the guitar for dances.
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 in New York City, and subsequently archived folk songs for the Library Congress and met and traveled with Woody GuthrieGuthrie, Woody
(Woodrow Wilson Guthrie), 1912–67, American folk singer, guitarist, and composer, b. Okemah, Okla. Guthrie was an itinerant musician and laborer from the age of 13.
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. Seeger cofounded the Almanac Singers, a folk trio, in 1940, and the Weavers, a popular and influential folk quartet, in 1948. Most often he played the 12-string acoustic guitar or five-string banjo, and he was a particular master of the latter. He was intimate and casual as a performer, often encouraging the audience to sing along. Among the many songs he composed are "Where Have All the Flowers Gone," "Turn, Turn, Turn," and "If I Had a Hammer" (co-written with Lee Hays). He also contributed to "We Shall Overcome," which was reworked from a gospel hymn and became the anthem of the civil-rights movement. Seeger, who recorded more than 100 albums and was (1959) one of the founders of the Newport Folk Festival, played a major role in reviving national interest in folk music in the 1950s and 60s, and influenced many later singers, including Bob DylanDylan, Bob
, 1941–, American singer and composer, b. Duluth, Minn., as Robert Zimmerman. Dylan learned guitar at the age of 10 and autoharp and harmonica at 15. After a rebellious youth, he moved to New York City in 1960 and in the early years of the decade began playing
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 and Bruce SpringsteenSpringsteen, Bruce Frederick,
1949–, American singer, guitarist, and songwriter, nicknamed "The Boss," b. Long Branch, N.J. Springsteen established himself as a singer and songwriter, as well as a stage showman, while playing in bands in cities along the shore of the NE
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 A four-time Grammy winner, he also was awarded (1994) the National Medal of Arts.

A leftist activist who had been a Communist in the 1940s, Seeger was charged (1957) with contempt of Congress for refusing to answer questions posed by the House Un-American Activities CommitteeHouse Un-American Activities Committee
(HUAC), a committee (1938–75) of the U.S. House of Representatives, created to investigate disloyalty and subversive organizations. Its first chairman, Martin Dies, set the pattern for its anti-Communist investigations.
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. Blacklisted from the 1950s to the late 60s, he was barred from network television but continued to record and to perform. Throughout his life, Seeger actively supported labor, civil-rights, antiwar, environmental, and other causes, and raised money for the Clearwater, a sloop that has plied the Hudson River since 1969, working to rejuvenate the river and advocating for environmental issues generally.


See R. and S. Rosenthal, ed., Pete Seeger: His Life In His Own Words (2012) and R. D. Cohen and J. Capaldi, ed., The Pete Seeger Reader (2014); biographies by D. Dunaway (1981, repr. 2008) and A. Wilkinson (2009); A. M. Winkler, To Everything There Is A Season: Pete Seeger and the Power of Song (2009); J. Brown, dir., Pete Seeger: The Power of Song (documentary, 2007).

His half-brother, Mike Seeger (Michael Seeger), 1933–2009, was an American singer, instrumentalist, and folklorist, b. New York City. A son of Charles and Ruth Crawford Seeger, he played the guitar, banjo, dulcimer, mandolin, harmonica, and several other instruments. He collected songs from old records and from fellow musicians. In 1958 he founded the New Lost City Ramblers, a three-member string group that specialized in music of the 1920s and 30s. He recorded dozens of albums with this group, with other musicians, and as a soloist.

Mike's sister Peggy Seeger (Margaret Seeger), 1935–, is an American-British singer and songwriter who plays the piano, guitar, banjo, concertina, and other instruments. From the late 1950s, she lived in London with English singer-songwriter Ewan MacColl (1915–89), who also became her performing and recording partner; they married in 1977. Seeger has performed and recorded as a soloist and with many others, singing both traditional and new songs (many of those her own). Among her songbooks is The Peggy Seeger Songbook (1998). She has written two memoirs, of her mother (2017) and of her musical family (2018).

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Seeger, (R. Peter) Pete

(1919–  ) folksinger, songwriter; born in New York City. As a son of Charles Seeger, the musicologist, and stepson of Ruth Crawford-Seeger, the composer, he was raised in a home devoted to American folk music. He studied sociology at Harvard (1936–38) but left to pursue his interest in singing and painting. Influenced by Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie, he formed (with Guthrie) the Almanac Singers in 1941, one of the first such groups to give voice to social issues. In 1949 he joined the Weavers, the first commercially successful folk music group; although it had formally separated by about 1960, it occasionally regrouped for special concerts. Seeger performed for the civil rights and antiwar movements of the 1950s and 1960s (and at one point fell afoul of the U.S. government for his antiwar actions). His best-known original is "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" (1961). By the 1980s he was lending his voice and reputation to the environmental movement. In addition to performing he wrote scholarly articles on folk music.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.