Pete Seeger, who helped create modern American folk music and co-wrote some of its most enduring songs such as “Turn! Turn! Turn!,” died on Monday at the age of 94.
Seeger was a titan of American music history — as important as Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Chuck Berry or any of the handful of Delta blues legends. It would be a shame if he were forgotten to time.
Peter Seeger was born May 3, 1919, in New York. His father, Charles Seeger, was a conscientious objector during World War I and an eminent music scholar, reportedly the first to teach a musicology course in the United States. His mother was a professional composer and violinist, and his stepmother was a writer of children’s books in which folk music figured prominently.
Political dissent had been a family tradition for generations. A great-grandfather was a 19th-century abolitionist. The World War I poet Alan Seeger, who wrote “I Have a Rendezvous With Death,” was an uncle.
As a child, Mr. Seeger accompanied his father on visits to friends in the city. Years later, he recalled hearing the folk song “John Henry” played on a harmonica by artist Thomas Hart Benton in Greenwich Village.
In 1935, Mr. Seeger attended a folk music festival near Asheville, N.C., with his father. There he first encountered the five-string banjo. He found that the instrument produced music that was different from the sound of the four-string, short-necked banjos commonly used by jazz bands in the 1920s. It became Mr. Seeger’s musical trademark (although he also played a 12-string guitar and wood flute).
Here he is with Johnny Cash back in 1970. It’s clear that Seeger is the teacher and Cash is merely the student.