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Pete Seeger, a role model for musicians
Pete Seeger, the famous American folk singer died on 27 January 2014 at the age of 94. Seeger is said to have died in a peaceful manner in his sleep, where he was admitted in Presbyterian Hospital in New York for six days. He was part of the Weavers group, which played great American folk music.

The American Seeger and Indian great Lata Didi have had few things in common. Pete was one of the most beloved, well-respected artists. Both are legend musicians and icons for their admirers. Lata was born on 29 Sep 1929 and Seeger graced this planet on 3 May 1919. Both are connected with the thread of political activism.

Lata Mangeshkar is all out in the field to support NaMo, while Pete was a tireless campaigner of peace and togetherness. It is an irony that the history of Indian music has to witness the brutal reality. ‘Nightingale of India’ has always been a ruthless operator. She had never allowed any talented female to grow to the best of her ability. She didn’t forgive even music director even O.P. Nayyar for grooming her own sister Asha Bhosle. Before Vani Jayaram, Preeti Sagar, Sharda and great singer Suman Kalyanpor, it was Geeta Dutt who posed a challenge to Mangeshkar. The crafty singer crushed Geeta to the point where she only used to sing for side heroines and vamps.

Lata Didi is a spiritual individual of temple traditions. Seeger was an Utopian dreamer. Someone asked him for his spiritual or religious belief. He responded that he felt most spiritual when he was out in the woods. He felt himself part of nature.  On looking up at the stars he used to say – “I was an atheist. Now I say, it’s all according to your definition of God. According to my definition of God, I’m not an atheist. Because I think God is everything. Whenever I open my eyes I’m looking at God. Whenever I’m listening to something I’m listening to God."  

He was a youth of 17 years when he had joined the ‘Young Communist League.’ In 1942, he became a member of Communist Party USA (CPUSA) He eventually "drifted away" (his words) from the party in the late 1940s and 1950s. He was wedded to his musical instruments as he used his voice and music, both to spread the message of peace and togetherness. He was known for his mastery and innovation for the folk-style five-string banjo, which has been one of the most prominent folk musical instrument of his generation.

Seeger was also a political and environmental activist. His father Charles Seeger, an ethnomusicologist and a pioneering folklorist was a left-wing activist and he got Seeger introduced to some of the most important folk musicians of USA.

With his best friend Gurthrie, another folk singer, he was blacklisted as communist in 1941. He was a staunch communist till he learnt more about the politics of Joseph Stalin and quit the Communist Party. However, Seeger refused to answer questions before Congress in 1955 about his political beliefs and associations. He was held in contempt and nearly served a jail sentence before charges were finally dropped in 1962.

Peace and perseverance were his domains. He loved to teach folk music to children and few of his songs are as follows:

“Oh Had I a Golden Thread. In it I’d weave the bravery / Of women giving birth / In it I would  weave innocence of children all over the earth……….”

“Bring Them Home. If you love your Uncle Sam, bring ‘em home, bring ‘em home.”

This song seemed to be an anti-war lilt but it was actually an appeal for bringing back the soldiers home alive.

“If I Had a Hammer. If I had a bell, I'd ring it in the morning / I'd ring it in the evening all over this land / I'd ring out danger! / I'd ring out warning! / I'd ring out love between my brothers and my sisters all over this land”

It’s a timeless classic, which he wrote with Lee Hays. It is about unity, peace and justice.

He wrote a song that preceded the Iraq War and its supposed to be one of  his brilliant creation.

“Take It From Dr. King. Don’t say it can’t be done / The battle’s just begun / Take it from Dr. King / You too can learn to sing so drop the gun.” This lyric was a challenge to the people who preferred violence over peace.''

"Where Have All the Flowers Gone? Where have all the soldiers gone? / Gone to graveyards, every one. / Oh, when will they ever learn?''

The song tells the story of soldiers going off to war, and killed in battle.

“The Torn Flag. My blue is good, the color of the sky. / The stars are good for ideals, oh, so high. / Seven stripes of red are strong to meet all danger / But those white stripes, they need some changing.”

Pete was a committed artist and worked tirelessly for social causes till his last breath. He marched nationwide for civil rights and against Vietnam War. One of his famous quotes: "Sometimes I think about that old saying,'The pen is mightier than the sword.' Well, my one hope is the guitar is gonna be mightier than the bomb."

He stayed near the Hudson River and loved its clear waters. In 1968 he spearheaded a movement Sloop Clearwater to keep the filth away from river. He built up a team of volunteers who used to sail up and down the river to check the polluters. According to Seeger,"Bringing these people together, all these people, is the essential thing, and this is what the Clearwater almost miraculously has started to do on the Hudson."

It would be relevant to mention here about the Peddar Road Bridge story. In August 2006 the legendary Singer sisters, soon after the announcement of the flyover project, had threatened to pack up and  move out of their Prabhu Kunj residence. Lata Mangeshkar had once jokingly said she would be able to shake hands with motorists on the flyover from her balcony. For several years now, both the sisters had been complaining about the increasing noise and air pollution on Peddar Road, as per media reports. One can connect the similarity between the two greats.

Seeger was a role model for younger folk musicians. Bringing people in a group and persuading them to sing together was one of Pete Seeger's greatest legacies. He was worried about the super-fast pace of advancing technology. He felt that our emotional state was not inadequate to cope with this pace. He feared that with a push of a button, in a fit of rage, we could wipe ourselves off the face of the Earth.

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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