Birthday Shoutout: Pete Seeger
Pete Seeger, the grand old man of American music, turns 94 years old today. Wherever he celebrates, we hope he’s picking a banjo.
Seeger was a founding member of two legendary and influential folk groups – the politically charged Almanac Singers and then The Weavers, whose sweet harmonies and affinity for traditional songs made their social commentary more subtly subversive.
In the 1960s, Seeger was vocally opposed to the Vietnam War and the nuclear arms race. Booked to perform on the Smothers Brothers’ variety show, Seeger got into a battle with network censors over whether he could play “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy,” an allegorical song about LBJ and Vietnam. (Singer Nanci Griffith would later point out that while Elvis was considered a rebel because the networks had to censor his swiveling hips, Seeger was the real deal because they tried to censor his actual message.)
A great lover of music history, Seeger could take an old spiritual such as “We Shall Overcome” and introduce it to a wider audience in a way that would help listeners understand its significance.
He still writes and records in his 90s, combining music with spoken word, and he still delights in leading a crowd through Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land.” (Guthrie wrote on the face of his guitar that “This Machine Kills Fascists.” Seeger took inspiration from that and printed on the face of his banjo: “This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender.”)