Pete Seeger: Activism and Spiritual Search
Pete Seeger, who died on January 27 at the age of 94, was a voice for a justice and equity through-out the 20th century. He was also affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Community Church on 35th Street, in New York, first joining it for rehearsal space (because his mother was Unitarian), and is acknowledged has having been a long-time UU (1). In an interview on Beliefnet, Seeger said, “I feel most spiritual when I’m out in the woods. I feel part of nature. Or looking up at the stars. [I 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.” (Read the Beliefnet interview with Pete Seeger).
Seeger sang about progressive issues and animated protest movements with his music continuously from the 1940’s, and he continued to record, perform and speak out against on injustice until the end of his life. His music is so closely associated with values of fairness and equality that many people, focusing on the message of his music, don’t realize that songs like “Turn, Turn, Turn,” “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy,” or “If I Had a Hammer,” were written by anyone in particular. Pete Seeger was the folksinger most responsible for popularizing the spiritual “We Shall Overcome”, which became the anthem of the Civil Rights Movement, changing the lyric “we will overcome” to “we shall overcome.”(2) If there is such a thing as a national canon of folk protest music, Peter Seeger’s might be it.
Pete Seeger believed his music could change hearts and minds, and his music was in service of his activism. He was an active steward of the environment (3), who worked for civil and labor rights, racial equality, international understanding, and anti-militarism (4), militated against the death penalty (5) and against the climate of terror following the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, penning “Take it from Dr. King”:
“We sang about Alabama 1955, / But since 9-11, we wonder, will this world survive? / The world learned a lesson from Dr. King: / We can survive, we can, we will, and so we sing – // 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.”(6).
Pete Seeger and Friends Celebrating Our Tradition (Performance at the 2005 UUA General Assembly in Fort Worth, TX.)
Pete Seeger Music (from Appleseed Recordings)
Pete Seeger on Nation Public Radio (Collected interviews and performances.)