Singer-songwriter Pete Seeger, a man who was foundational in the shaping of modern folk music in America, died Monday of natural causes in a New York hospital, the New York Times reports. He was 94.
While he was never what many would consider a chart success as a solo artist during his 70-plus-year career, there are few today in American music who have not felt Pete Seeger’s influence, most especially those who grew out of the folk music revival in the 1960s. His songs have become an indelible part of modern American culture—songs many of us know without knowing where they came from. “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” “Turn, Turn, Turn.” “If I Had a Hammer.” Civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome.” All of these and more are part of Seeger’s anthology, his songs recorded by the likes of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, the Byrds, the Kingston Trio, Peter Paul & Mary and countless others.
As a performer himself, Seeger saw his heyday in the 1940s and 1950s, both as a solo artist and as part of his band The Weavers. He continued recording and performing into his nineties, appearing on stage as recently as 2012. His discography includes over 80 albums.
For all his influence, Pete Seeger was not immune to controversy. His brand of folk music uncompromisingly intertwined with leftist politics and counter-cultural activism, Seeger was among those blacklisted by the U.S. government in the 1950s for his outspoken communist leanings—a move which essentially put his career on the skids for a time. While he later renounced the Stalinist/Soviet expression of communism, he remained a staunch activist for social causes, including the anti-war and environmentalist movements. Engraved onto his banjo (his primary instrument) was the saying, “This Machine Surrounds Hate and Forces It To Surrender.”
Seeger’s profound influence on the music world has been recognized with a plethora of honors, including a lifetime achievement Grammy Award in 1993; a Kennedy Center Honor in 1994; induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1972; and even induction as an “early influencer” into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.
RIP, Pete Seeger. You will be missed.