Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger with Henry Wallace 1948
Pete Seeger with the Weavers 1950
"Singer-songwriter Pete Seeger is, along with Woody Guthrie, one of the pioneers of folk music. Seeger is synonymous with the folk boom of the late 1950s and early 1960s, and helped to transform folk from an orally transmitted body of traditional songs found mainly among rural dwellers to a mass-market form of entertainment, popular on college campuses and in New York coffeehouses. Pete Seeger was born on May 3, 1919 in New York City, the son of Julliard musicologist Charles Seeger, one of the first researchers to investigate non-western music. Pete Seeger was educated at a series of exclusive private schools, including Harvard, where he majored in sociology. Seeger had begun playing banjo in his teens, and developed an intense interest in folk music that only grew over time. In 1938 he shocked his parents by dropping out of college to hitchhike across the U.S., meeting many legendary folk musicians along the way, including Ledbelly and Woody Guthrie. When he returned to New York in 1940, Seeger formed the Almanac Singers, a rotating cast of folk singers (at times including Woody Guthrie) that merged politically progressive lyrics with folk tunes. They performed mainly at union rallies, strikes, and similar events. The Almanac Singers disbanded during World War II, when Pete Seeger was drafted.

After serving in the military for several years, Pete Seeger returned to New York in 1948 and formed the Weavers, the first mainstream American folk group. The Weavers scored several big hits in the early 1950s, including 1948's "Goodnight Irene," which stayed a No. 1 for weeks on end, setting a chart record not broken until the 1970s. During the McCarthy-era Red Scare the Weavers -- less political than the Almanac Singers, but still outspokenly socialist -- suffered boycotts that severely curtailed their success. In 1955 the group bounced back with a legendary performance at Carnegie Hall, setting the stage for the urban folk boom of the late 1950s. Though a somewhat controversial figure for his radical politics and shocking refusal to testify before the Un-American Activities committee, Seeger elected to begin a solo career in 1958, and quickly became a star in his own right. Known for songs such as "If I Had a Hammer" (a hit for Peter, Paul and Mary), "Where Have All the Flowers Gone," "Turn, Turn, Turn" (later popularized by the Byrds), "Guantanamera" and, most famously, "We Shall Overcome," Seeger became a fixture at civil rights rallies, college campuses, labor strikes and anti-war protests, where audiences would often sing along so loud that Seeger himself could hardly be heard. In 1961 Seeger signed to major-label Columbia Records, and as his popularity grew even further over the next few years, many younger "message" singers, such as Phil Ochs, accused him of selling out his politics for mainstream success, citing his involvement with the commercialized Newport Folk Festivals.

Toward the end of the 1960s, Seeger shifted away from typical American folk, embracing African music, Latin-American folk songs and other forms of world music. He wrote several famous "how to" books on acoustic guitar and banjo, and became active in the nascent environmental movement, drawing attention to pollution of the Hudson River through boating trips; he later formed the activist group Clearwater, which teaches schoolchildren about water pollution. Pete Seeger continued performing into the 1970s, '80s, and '90s, most often at charity shows and benefits. Seeger currently lives in upstate New York."

Pete Seeger Biography from Rolling Stone