Folk Musician Pete Seeger Dies at 94

David Amran (left), Pete Seeger and Lorre Wyatt (right) at the 2013 Clearwater Festival. Photo/Alison Bert
David Amran (left), Pete Seeger and Lorre Wyatt (right) at the 2013 Clearwater Festival. Photo/Alison Bert
Iconic folk musician Pete Seeger, who loved and lived by the Hudson River, died Jan. 27. He was 94.

Seeger was active and at home until his final illness, going into New York Presbyterian Hospital six days ago, according to the Huffington Post. 

In its obituary, Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, the organization he founded, mourned the death of its founder.

"Seeger planted the seed that started Hudson River Sloop Clearwater when he and a few friends, decided to “build a boat to save the river” with the belief that a majestic replica of the sloops that sailed the Hudson in the 18th and 19th centuries would bring people to the river where they could experience its beauty and be moved to preserve it.

"Seeger was able to inspire people to make the dream a reality; the keel was laid in October 1968 and christened with Hudson River water. The 106-foot sloop Clearwater was launched on May 17, 1969 at Harvey Gamage Shipyard in South Bristol, Maine, and the inaugural sail was to South Street Seaport in New York City, and then on to her permanent home on the Hudson River. Today, the sloop sails the Hudson River from New York City to Albany as a “Sailing Classroom”, laboratory, musical stage, and forum. Since her launch, over half a million people have been introduced to the Hudson River estuary. Many Hudson Valley residents can share stories of the days when they were in elementary school and their voyage on the sloop Clearwater."

Seeger's career spanned 80 years. A member of The Weavers, one of the seminal folk music groups of the 1940s, he was blacklisted during the McCarthy Era in the 1950s. 

His banjo was a potent weapon in the 1960s and 1970s in the civil rights and anti-war movements, something PBS acknowledged in its American Masters episode "Pete Seeger: The Power of Song."

As a song writer, he was the author or co-author of "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" (with Joe Hickerson), "If I Had a Hammer (The Hammer Song)" (composed with Lee Hays of The Weavers), and "Turn, Turn, Turn!", which have been recorded by many artists both in and outside the folk revival movement and are still sung throughout the world, according to Wikipedia. 

He sang in great and small venues, from the halls of Congress to the annual Pumpkin Festival in Beacon, where he had lived since 1943 with his wife Toshi Alina Ota, who died in July, 2013.

Seeger, a lifelong activist, “champion of the Hudson River,” writes Tarrytown resident Jeanne Pedro on Facebook, and folk song legend, was 94 and lived in Beacon since he built a log cabin there on a $1,700 piece of 17 acres, writes the NYTimes, in the late 1940s. He had received innumerable honors in his lifetime from his 1996 induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to multiple Grammies.

Locals are remembering him in everyday ways as well: one resident writes on Facebook, “My dad used to help him get his guitar case off the train in Cold Spring. Polar opposites in politics though!”

In recent years, Croton Point Park became a buzzing folk music destination with the amazing Clearwater Festival, where Seeger's own Clearwater sloop, built by musicians in the late 1960s, would dock up as “a symbol and a rallying point for antipollution efforts and education,” writes the NYTimes. Seeger was also one of the founders of the Newport Folk Festival where he sang in August at their 50th anniversary.

His voice may have been “flagging” in later years, wrote the NY Times, but his spirit never was. He was predeceased by his wife Toshi in 2013 days before their 70th anniversary but he remained active.

A beautiful tribute to him in the NY Times writes,

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.

Also on Monday, Connecticut's Avon Patch shared the news that Seeger, who graduated from Avon Old Farms School in 1936, the place where he started his lifelong music career by first picking up a ukelele, would be collecting the first ever Woody Guthrie Prize in February.

The award honors an artist "who best exemplifies the spirit and life's work of folk singer/songwriter Woody Guthrie by speaking for the less fortunate through music, film, literature, dance, or other art forms, and serving as a positive force for social change in America," a press release from the school stated.

His daughter Nora, reacted with her own wishes for the prize's purpose. "We hope that the Woody Guthrie Prize will shed an inspirational light on those who have decided to use their talents for the common good rather than for personal gain," she said in a statement. "With his dry wit, Woody always preferred to call himself a 'common-ist.' His quote from John Steinbeck's character, Tom Joad, says it pretty simply: 'Wherever children are hungry and cry, wherever people ain't free, wherever men are fightin' for their rights, that's where I'm gonna be.' There are so many people who are living this credo, and they're the ones we will be honoring."

One local politician has proposed a tribute of much more monumental scale -- how about naming the New NY Bridge, a rebuilt Tappan Zee Bridge, in honor of the man who fought so hard for our river?

Greenburgh Supervisor Paul Feiner writes on Patch:

I am writing to the Governor and members of the NYS Legislature and will urge them to consider naming the new Tappan Zee bridge in honor and in memory of Pete Seeger, who passed away today.

Pete Seeger was a leader in environmental causes. When one thinks of the Hudson River and the environment one of the first names we think of is Pete Seeger. He was the founder of the Hudson River sloop Clearwater which helped encourage environmental activism and the waterway's rebirth.  Clearwater continues to promote the river and environmental causes.

Pete Seeger pushed for a cleaner river in the 1960s (long before others took on the cause)  and used music to push for an environment friendly river. He sang "Sailing up my dirty stream and kept pushing for a better river.

If the Tappan Zee bridge is named for Pete Seeger we will honor a man who led the fight for a cleaner river. And, we will be inspired whenever we cross the Hudson to think of ways to keep the river clean and beautiful.

A world class new bridge should be named for a world class environmentalist who made our region a better place.

What do you think about a Pete Seeger Bridge? Share your memories and tributes to Seeger here.


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