Pete Seeger died yesterday, after 94 full years of life.
He was a towering figure — musically, environmentally, and as a joyful voice for social justice.
Seeger was a frequent visitor to Westport, from his Hudson River home in Beacon, New York. He sang at many benefit concerts here for civil rights, and against the Vietnam war. He sailed his Clearwater sloop to Compo, to raise awareness of maritime pollution. He visited many local friends.
Seeger’s quartet — the Weavers — revolutionized American music in the 1940s and ’50s. They also put a public face on McCarthyism, when they were caught up in the Red Scare. Seeger was charged with 10 counts of contempt of Congress (and, 5 years later, acquitted). Charges of communism torpedoed the Weavers, but did not stop Seeger from 50 more years of activism.
Fred Hellerman — one of the last 2 remaining Weavers — has lived for many years in Weston.
“Pete lived a remarkable life,” Hellerman told “06880” this morning. “His impact is too big even to describe. He was keystone of the revival of the whole folk music scene. Without him there would be no Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul & Mary and Kingston Trio.”
His influence extended to the likes of Bruce Springsteen, a huge fan. A whole new generation was introduced to Pete Seeger when he performed at President Obama’s inauguration.
“Pete had a tremendous ability to get a crowd singing,” Hellerman noted. “He even taught them harmonies. Walt Whitman said ‘I hear America singing,’ but it was Pete Seeger leading them on.”
Hellerman last saw Seeger a month ago, at a memorial service in New York for Seeger’s wife, Toshi. She died just days before their 70th anniversary.
“Pete always said I could pick out a harmony,” the former Weaver said. “I was glad to be there to do it once again for him.
“Pete was a remarkable guy,” Hellerman added. “He was a great model of standing up for what you believe.”
If you’ve got a Pete Seeger memory — from Westport, or anywhere else in the world — click “Comments” below.