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Folk singer and songwriter Pete Seeger has died at age 94.
Known as a champion of folk music and an Americana icon, Seeger passed away of natural causes at New York-Presbyterian Hospital on Monday, Jan. 27, the New York Times reported. His death was confirmed to the Times by his grandson, Kitama Cahill Jackson.
Seeger’s long and prolific career dates back to the 1940s, when he delivered his songs — and message — at labor rallies. Over the next decade, his cause list expanded to include performances at anti-war and civil rights rallies. As folk music gained in popularity through the 1950s, Seeger’s name was synonymous with the musical movement. Among his slew of hit songs: “If I Had a Hammer,” “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” and “Turn! Turn! Turn!”, a future No. 1 for ’60s psychedelic rockers The Byrds.
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In 1955, Seeger found himself on the opposing side of the House Un-American Activities Committee — ostensibly blacklisted. But rather than give in to the unfounded paranoia of what most deemed a modern-day witch hunt, Seeger opted not to plead the Fifth, as many of the accused had done, and instead cited his First Amendment rights in refusing to name personal and political associations.
Seeger’s influence expanded by leaps and bounds in the 1960s as the Greenwich Village scene exploded simultaneously — a musical era to which the Coen brothers pay tribute in the movie Inside Llewyn Davis. It was there in New York City that he began to mentor other aspiring folk singers, including a young Bob Dylan, and further developed a reputation as the Johnny Appleseed of folk. By the 1970s and 1980s, Seeger was a musical icon.
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Seeger’s songs of protest and Americana would go on to shape the sound of scores of singers, including Bruce Springsteen, who, in 2006, paid homage to one of his musical heroes with the album We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions. More recently, Seeger performed on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at an inaugural concert for Barack Obama.
With the singer’s death, the last link to Woody Guthrie, Seeger’s longtime friend and collaborator, is gone as well.
Seeger is survived by son Daniel; his daughters, Mika and Tinya; a half-sister, Peggy; and six grandchildren, including the musician Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, who performed with him at the Obama inaugural.
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