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Pete Seeger: He Left the World a Better Place

Pete Seeger, who passed away on Monday at 94, left this world a better place.  What more could anyone hope to have said of his/her life?  I never met Pete Seeger, but from childhood through to this moment I have been influenced, charmed and haunted by the songs he popularized.

Seeger famously said, “I’d rather put songs on people’s lips than in their ears.”  Right now “If I Had a Hammer” is churning through my brain. “This Land is Your Land” was the anthem of my fifth-grade graduation, and “We Shall Overcome”, a song of hope for all people. “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,“Guantanamera,” and “This Little Light of Mine” were summer campfire favorites.  When I think about it, Pete’s folk songs are a background sound track to the all the early years of my life.

I aspire each day to have my intentions and actions result in greater peace and happiness on earth.  Pete Seeger did not just aspire; he did it.  He lived a life that influenced our country and its values.  Beyond the appeal of his folk singing, he made a managed to communicate powerful messages about the need to be aware and make changes.  Bruce Springsteen said of him that Seeger was, “a stealth dagger through the heart of our country’s illusions about itself.”

Seeger was a Communist who sang his songs for the common man and to overcome oppression in all of its forms.  He paid for his beliefs, and for his refusal to name names to the McCarthy Commision, by being sentenced to jail (he did not serve his term) and being blacklisted by record companies and TV for at least a decade.

The times changed, and Pete Seeger received many honors from his country including the Kennedy Center Honors award in 1994, where President Clinton described him as, “an inconvenient artist who dared to sing things as he saw them.” In April 2000, The Library of Congress named Seeger one of America’s Living Legends.  

In 2009 Pete Seeger performed at an inaugural celebration concert for President Obama, who eulogized him yesterday.

“Once called “America’s tuning fork,” Pete Seeger believed deeply in the power of song. But more importantly, he believed in the power of community – to stand up for what’s right, speak out against what’s wrong, and move this country closer to the America he knew we could be. Over the years, Pete used his voice – and his hammer – to strike blows for worker’s rights and civil rights; world peace and environmental conservation. And he always invited us to sing along. “

People of the left and right in politics may have different opinions about what makes our country great, but Pete Seeger’s music and legacy lives on in all of us.

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