Turn, turn, turn: Pete Seeger is gone

Turn, turn, turn: Pete Seeger is gone


norman lebrecht

January 28, 2014

Godfather of the 1960s folk revolution, Pete Seeger who has died at 94, was a lifelong social activist who saw no barriers between the music he wrote and sang and the struggle for class and racial equality that he waged. If I Had a Hammer and Where Have All the Flowers Gone were manifestos for the working man and world peace. But Turn, Turn, Turn – equally big in its time – harked back to his scriptural foundations. Everything that Pete Seeger sang was grounded in a clear moral view of the universe, in the American folk heritage and the modernist movement, the last two being legacies from his composer stepmother, Ruth Crawford Seeger. May Pete rest in eternal peace.

pete seeger


  • It will be interesting to see if his passing is met with the same rending of clothes as that of adenoidal rock singers and coked-up movie “stars”.

  • richardcarlisle says:

    Enrich as he did the folk music culture of the world his passion for the environment as one of the earliest pioneers to pick up on the seed planted by Rachel Carson and develop it into a universal movement through the Clearwater project was equivalent and it is doubtful we will ever fully realize his gifts or appreciate them.

    Directly or indirectly he improved the lives of all on this planet and a special honor for me to meet him … may he be revered in our memory and may he rest in peace.

  • Daniel Farber says:

    Pete’s “clear moral view of the universe” was engendered, until very recently, by his abiding enthusiasm for the accomplishments of Joseph Stalin.

    • Tom Hartley says:

      Nearly a quarter-century after the fall of the Soviet Union, some people are still fighting the Cold War. Maybe Daniel can write a folk song about the evils of the capital gains tax.

      • Daniel Farber says:

        Believe it or not, there are folks actually on the left who prefer not to forget the horrors of the previous century. There were also people on the left who applauded capital gains taxes but condemned those, like Pete Seeger, who slavishly followed the Stalinist line: Orwell and Koestler and, in America, Sidney Hook and Norman Thomas. Your line is funny, Tom, but your false assumption is grounded in typically cliched thinking.

        • Tom Hartley says:

          Your original comment reduces Seeger to nothing more than a communist dupe, implying that his entire world view — his opposition to war and racism, his concern about the environment, etc. — was inspired by his “abiding enthusiasm” for a monstrous communist dictator. If you think the only thing we should know about Seeger is that he was a communist, that every line of every song he sang was Stalinist propaganda, you have reduced Seeger to a cliche, and having a more nuanced view of the man does not make one an apologist for Joseph Stalin.

          • Tom Hartley says:

            Seeger, along with every other American who joined the Communist Party during the Great Depression, was inspired more by the failure of capitalism than accomplishmnets for Stalin.

    • MacroV says:

      I’m pretty sure he renounced Stalin (and communism in general) about 60 years ago.

    • Dave T says:

      My understanding is that Seeger renounced Stalin over 50 years ago– not exactly “very recently.” Perhaps you have other information.

      • Daniel Farber says:

        Pete was rather cagey, if not disingenuous, about this matter. His claim that he left the Party in 1950 may be factually true, but it was not a matter of volitional choice. It was rather the Party that moved him out into the fellow-traveling lane. Advertising for Seeger performances appeared regularly in The Worker when I first read it ca. 1959. His first admission that he might have been wrong about Stalin came only at around the time of his 90th birthday. The irony in all this is that it was precisely his “true belief” that made his performances (and those of the Weavers) so infectious, so rousing, so memorable.

  • Tom Foley says:

    “So long,” Dear Pete. It has, indeed, “been good to know ya.”

  • Joanne Loewy says:

    Pete received the Phoebe Jacobs ‘Wonderful World’ award this past September at Mt Sinai Beth Israel Med Ctr in NYC. He was a compassionate songleader and a generous musician. He invited ‘Once’ cast on stage as well as others to play along in his encore. There are no words to describe what it was like to sing and play ‘If I had a Hammer’ with him…one of his greatest tunes, encapsulating his legacy of building peace through community song and social leadership. Pete will always be with us.

  • Tully Potter says:

    A great man and part of the soundtrack of my life for more than 60 years, ever since the time of The Weavers.

  • Very well put, Norman, as are the observations by richardcarlisle on Pete’s early citizen environmentalism. His politics could have a simplistic impetus as Daniel Farber points out. Fortunately, within the U.S. in his lifetime that put him on the right side of anti-fascism, civil rights, women’s equality, Vietnam, drawing attention to our country’s rivers, and valuing our children. He shaped so much of my musical life and understanding from my earliest childhood (I am 54) — only the great and unsung Ella Jenkins came before him.

  • PK Miller says:

    RIP, Pete. There will never be anyone like you. Pete always had courage of his convictions, never changed them to suit current politics. He sacrificed much for these convictions including the ban imposed by the vile House Un-American Activities Committee. He always stood up for the little guy. No one today has Pete’s courage. And certainly no one today has Pete’s ability to get a crowd singing, making joyful music together. In the immortal words of our own Music Mobile Lady Ruth Pelham, herself gifted with an ability to get people of all ages, races, etc. singing together, “With people’s music, WE CAN MAKE IT!”

    PS I too wonder if his passing will receive the attention some twerp like Justin Bieber might have. He was always Pete Seeger, guy next door, approachable, friendly, unlike today’s “stars” who travel w/million $ entourages, bodyguards, hi tech shows, etc. It was just Pete, banjo & microphone. Unlike these guys, Pete never put on airs. He had more talent in his little finger’s nail than these fools will ever have in their entire bodies.

  • Ellen Grove says:

    Your pinched and narrow vision, so bitter and grudging about his misguided (“until recently”) politics, does not to do justice to Pete Seeger, who, on balance, contributed more to the world in the long run — in terms of his music and his social/environmental activism – than most of us. Listen to some old Weavers tunes, and try to relax.

    • Wei Lui says:

      Sorry Daniel is right. Read the black book of communism …sorry but I would rather have the narrow view that communism is bad and not be some realitivist that trys to defend an ideology that killed at least 60-90 million people in the name of the state.

  • Ellen Grove says:

    My reply was to the COMMENT left by Daniel Farber.

  • Richard Crampton says:

    ” Everything that Pete Seeger sang was grounded in a clear moral view of the universe, in the American folk heritage and the modernist movement, . . ”

    One should elaborate: insert ” egocentric ” between ‘ moral ‘ and ‘ view ‘. His absence will not be mourned by me.

  • PAM says:

    I was lucky enough to be onstage at Town Hall with Mr. Seeger when I was fourteen years old . I remember being terrified, but he was so very kind. He lived a wonderful and full life — and contributed so much to music. But, his contribution to so many important causes was absolutely fearless — and he did so during very, very dark times in our history. He will be sorely missed. I only hope there will be some equally brave artists to follow in his footsteps.

  • Allan Green says:

    Thank you so much for posting the clips of Pete Seeger; it was also marvellous to see and hear Joan Baez again – another great artist.

  • paulkelly20 says:

    Strangely, I think Pete Seeger’s legacy is Bruce Springsteen. Different music and not quite so much activism, but there’s a line from Woody Guthrie through Seeger to Springsteen and beyond -taking in other stations en route of course.

  • Wei Lui says:

    We seem to be forgetting that he was a communist, and supporter of dictators that committed some of the biggest crimes in the history of man.

    Seeger was a member of the Communist Party from the 1930s through the 1950s. He left the party but never gave up the faith. He told the Washington Post in 1995 “I am still a communist.” Like his comrades and fellow travelers Seeger twisted and turned with every pronouncement from Moscow. Seeger supported the Nazi-Soviet Pact, a curious position for a noted “anti-fascist.”

    Seeger’s love for murderous communist tyrants didn’t end with Stalin. During the Cold War he praised Ho Chi Minh and provided a hearty jacket endorsement for Tomas Borges’ the brutal Sandinista thug’s book.

    But then again people within the American left don’t seem find fault with that, strange. Or as one of there hEros called these people, useful idiots

  • I met him twice and we corresponded for a short period of time. He liked my recording of his “If I Had A Hammer” which had me smiling steady for a month. He was a role model for me, not only as a musician but for how a musician should live his life and the innate power of music for good. I think the world is now an emptier, more desolate place without his voice in it. I’ll miss him greatly.

    Who’s going stand in those shoes, sing loud and try to fill the void?

  • Ellen Grove says:

    Right you are, Tom Hartley. To reduce Pete Seeger to just a “dupe” of the CP is really pushing the R-wing envelope. Also the idea that the fervor and enthusiasm in the Weavers performances was evidence of their “true belief” in Stalin and the USSR — is, well,extremely debatable. I would nopresume to know what was in their hearts and minds. It’s likely they were fired up by a vision of justice and equality which is what they were hoping to convey to their audiences, which they accomplished — in the best AMERICAN tradition.