'This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender': Pete Seeger at 90
Pete Seeger has turned ninety.
His life and career are so illustrious that any potted history can't do him justice, so see his entry at wikipedia for more detail. There you can learn of his role in the folk revival from the date in 1940 when he met Woody Guthrie at a "Grapes of Wrath" migrant-worker benefit concert, to his refusal to co-operate with the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s (leading to a jail sentence), through to his popularising of We Shall Overcome as the anthem of the 1960s civil rights movement and the crusade for justice across the world. 2009 saw him singing This Land is Your Land to a million-strong crowd at the finale of President Obama’s inauguration.
Over the years he has influenced everybody from Bob Dylan to our own Tommy Sands: "Pete is like a great oak that we all gather around for shelter, wisdom and inspiration.”
His birthday was marked at the weekend by a concert in Madison Square Garden featuring Bruce Springsteen, Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez, Barbra Streisand, Billy Bragg, Tommy Sands and a host of others, raising money for Pete's environmental charity Clearwater.
Also on the bill were Native American musicians pleading for support in their battle with Peabody Energy, a giant strip-mining company that has been at the centre of lawsuits by native tribes over drinking water and income from mineral rights. At 90, Seeger is still fighting the good fight, summed up in the slogan painted on his banjo: 'This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender'.
He’s “outlasted the bastards” said Springsteen in a moving tribute at the gig, “a stealth dagger through the heart of our country’s illusions about itself.”
Seamus Heaney wrote this dedication for Seeger’s nine-decade milestone:
"Pete Seeger's singing has fulfilled the high classical expectation that poetry be both sweet and helpful. His art managed to take the strain of his activism, the banjo in his hand was his hammer of justice, and his music was more than equal to the music of what happened."
I’ll put it more simply. Pete Seeger is a human rights hero. Happy Birthday.
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