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Folk Legend Pete Seeger Dead at 94

Pete Seeger
Astrid Stalwarz, Getty Images

Pete Seeger says he lost his heart to the banjo when he was just a teenager. It happened at a mountain dance festival in North Carolina. It was the mid ’30s, and he was with his father. “There was a kind of honesty in country music that I didn’t find in pop music,” he would say later. The moment inspired Seeger, who died on Monday (Jan. 27) at the age of 94, to become one of the most influential voices of the century.

Reuters and several other media outlets report that the legend died of natural causes at New York Presbyterian Hospital. His grandson tells the Associated Press that the native New Yorker had been there for six days and was healthy prior to his stay. Country singers like Chely Wright and Corey Smith were among the first to take to Twitter to share a word about Seeger’s influence.

While not a country hitmaker, Seeger’s music and activism were an inspiration for many, especially during politically unstable times of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ’70s. The tall, spindly banjo man is known for writing ‘If I Had a Hammer,’ ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’ and ‘Kisses Sweeter Than Wine.’ He recorded dozens of albums, including the Grammy-winning ‘Pete’ in 1997. In 2014, he was nominated in the Best Spoken Word category.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer’s career began in the 1940s with a group called the Almanac Singers. He and fellow folk singer Woody Guthrie traveled the country together for years, eventually splitting when Seeger joined the Army. Later, he’d form the Weavers and enjoy the fruits of a No. 1 hit that sold over four million records. It was a cover of Leadbelly’s ‘Good Night, Irene’ that made them famous, but they disbanded when Seeger was linked to the Communist Party.

Seeger would later denounce the Communist Party, but the affiliation would follow him throughout the rest of his 70-year career. After beginning a solo career he travelled to college campuses to play for students and show them there is plenty of good music not found on the radio.

While his voice began to fail him, he remained active into his ’90s. In 2011, he marched with Occupy Wall Street protesters, saying, “Be wary of great leaders. Hope that there are many, many small leaders. (quote via the AP).” In 2009, he performed at his 90th birthday party, a concert that included performances from Emmylou Harris and Kris Kristofferson.

Toshi Seeger, Pete’s wife of 70 years and a woman he called “the brains of the family,” died last July. The couple raised three children from a cabin near the Hudson River in Beacon, N.Y. — a home they shared since the end of World War II. Seeger is survived by three children, six grandchildren and a great-grandson.

Next: Country Artists Who Passed in 2013

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