Pete Seeger, a powerful musical and cultural force for much of the 20th century, has died at the age of 94.
Although Seeger was horribly wrongheaded for far too long when it came to the Soviet Union and the crimes of Communism (he was at one time a party member), he was a principled supporter of civil rights, the labor movement and environmental protection.
Rather than attempt a full critique of Seeger’s life and his works, I’ll simply note some of his songs that have meant something to me at various points in my life.
As a supporter of the Loyalist cause in the Spanish Civil War, he recorded (with the Almanac Singers) a version of “Viva La Quince Brigada”:
Here he is performing it five decades later with his grandson in Barcelona:
As Tom Lehrer observed: “Though he [Franco] may have won all the battles, we had all the good songs.”
(As followers of the Communist party line, the Almanac Singers, who at one point included Woody Guthrie, dutifully recorded an album of antiwar songs after the signing of the Hitler-Stalin pact, only to record an album of pro-war anti-Nazi songs after Germany invaded the USSR.)
Here is Seeger giving musical instructions on how to successfully organize a union (unfortunately it’s not that easy these days):
The Almanac Singers later morphed into the Weavers. They performed the original version of “If I Had a Hammer”:
Seeger helped adapt the labor song “I’ll Overcome” into the great civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome”:
I hope it distresses some on the anti-Israel Left that Seeger and the Weavers (who were later blacklisted) popularized the Hebrew song “Tzena Tzena Tzena” and performed it in tribute to “the new land of Israel”:
When I attended a concert at Kibbutz Ein Gev in 1986, I saw a poster from the 1960s in the performance hall for an appearance there by Seeger. When I lived in Israel in the 1990s, the classical music station Kol HaMusica would sometimes devote an hour to his songs.
And Seeger joined Bruce Springsteen to perform in honor of Barack Obama’s 2009 Inauguration:
Finally, it’s worth noting that Seeger in 1982 joined other leftists to support the Polish Solidarity movement and oppose the Communist government.
Update: A nice warts-and-all tribute to Pete Seeger from Paul Berman.
(Hat tip: Oscar)