In Memoriam: Pete Seeger (1919-2014)


Pete Seeger, the American folksinger whose clear voice entertained and inspired millions, died on Monday night at the age of 94.  Seeger's grandson, Kitama Cahill-Jackson, reported that he died of natural causes at New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

I cannot hope to write an appropriate tribute to Seeger, a man with a tremendously long career who made many, many friends and lived his life with a sense of dignity and principle that I could only hope to live up to.  And, reading the obituaries that have been published since last night, most of them touch upon his work making music for families only briefly.

But with Seeger, distinctions between "kids music" and whatever you want to call music that wasn't "kids music" didn't exist.  He sang for audiences of all ages drawing upon the deep well of folk music of America and around the world.  His viewed his folk music as a way of communicating his ideals of community -- and if you were going to sing of a world where everyone was pulling with the same oar -- why wouldn't you want to reach the kids in addition to his parents?

Seeger was a prolific recording musician -- he recorded 38 albums for Folkways just between 1950 and 1964, for example.  He one one Grammy for his children's music, for 2010's Tomorrow's Children, but that was not his best work.  And while his Smithsonian Folkways work is essential, if I had to pick just one Pete Seeger family album to recommend to you, it would be his 1963 album for Columbia, Children's Concert at Town Hall (affiliate link). It's Pete at the prime of his career, a fine banjo player and his amazing voice (THAT VOICE!), all in service of bring an entire audience together in song.  It's joyous, and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to someone of any age.

It is not hyperbole to say that without Seeger we wouldn't quite have "kindie" as we do today.  Set aside the artists such as Dan Zanes and Elizabeth Mitchell whose debts to Seeger are much more obvious and you'd still have countless others in genres often far afield from folk who carry on the idea that music can and often should be made for listeners of all ages.  We've lost a powerful voice with Pete's passing, but I think he'd expect us to pick up the melody and pass it along.