Above: Pete Seeger performing at the Yorktown Heights High School in Yorktown, N.Y. on Feb. 2, 1967. Photo by the New York World-Telegram & Sun's James Kavallines; donated to the Library of Congress and placed in the public domain.
Pete Seeger, beloved icon of American folk music and a vital figure in the Hudson Valley music and local activism scenes, died Monday, Jan. 27 at the New York-Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan. He was 94.
Seeger's grandson, Kitama Cahill-Jackson, told the Associated Press that Seeger's hospitalization had been brief. "He was chopping wood 10 days ago," he said.
Vital to the end -- as recently as September 2013, he was singing "This Land Is Your Land" onstage with Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, Neil Young and Dave Matthews at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center -- Seeger was a living embodiment of the folk tradition, with a career that spanned over 70 years.
For 69 of those years, Seeger was joined by his wife Toshi, who died last July at the age of 91. Together, the couple founded the Hudson Sloop Clearwater in 1966, an enviromental education foundation built around a 106-foot sailing sloop.
"She was the one who steered the boat; she had the chart; she kept off the rocks," Seeger told Persimmon Tree magazine in 2012.
A New York Times obituary published today sought to sum up in 2,800 words a career that stretched from the Great Depression to the anti-fracking movement; that survived the McCarthyist communist purges of the 1950s and was woven together with the triumph and heartbreak of the civil rights movement. Jon Pareles 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.
Seeger's environmental work will go on locally through the Sloop Clearwater, says an obituary on the Hudson Sloop Clearwater's website. "Ultimately, the 106-foot-long sailboat, Clearwater, will sail on as a symbol of Pete Seeger’s great legacy," the Clearwater crew writes. "Thanks to Pete Seeger, the over 12,000 school kids who sail each year will never see the river in the same way that they did before their voyage. Perhaps more importantly, they will be moved to protect the river every time they look at it."
We're collecting tributes to Pete Seeger from those who knew him, and sharing them below. If you have a memory to share with us, email it to [email protected] and we'll include it. --Ed.