Pete Seeger has been one of the most important individuals in modern folk music, from before it surged in popularity in the 1960s right through to the new century, as he continues to inspire with his enthusiasm and his commitment to social awareness.
Born May 3, 1919, in New York, Seeger studied banjo as a boy after his father, a musicologist, introduced him to the instrument. Starting in the late '30s, he played with Woody Guthrie in the political folk band the Almanac Singers.
He had major hits, such as "Goodnight Irene," with the Weavers, but they lost their recording contract in the early '50s when Seeger refused to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. He was charged with contempt of Congress but ultimately won the case after the fervor of the Red Scare died down.
Seeger recorded prolifically through the end of the '60s, as a solo artist and with the Weavers. He was also well-known for his live performances, often epic in length, in which he combined traditional songs from around the world with newer protest songs.
Seeger frequently performed the songs of others, such as "Little Boxes" and "Guantanamera" (RealAudio excerpt), but he also penned songs that others made famous, as with "If I Had a Hammer" and "Turn! Turn! Turn!" He also frequently updated old songs with newer lyrics, often to add political relevance.
His political activities, as well as his live performances, continued going strong through the '70s. In 1997 he won a Grammy Award for Pete, his first album of new material in a decade. He continues to perform live, as he did at the Bread & Roses 25th anniversary celebration in San Francisco in March, where he headlined a bill that included Joan Baez, Mimi Fariña, Boz Scaggs, Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne.
Other birthdays Wednesday: Dave Dudley, 72.