(RNN) - American folk legend and songwriter Pete Seeger, who wrote or co-wrote such folk standards as If I had a Hammer, Where have all the Flowers Gone and Turn! Turn! Turn! died Monday night at age 94.
Born in New York City on May 3, 1919, Seeger was friends with fellow folk icon Woody Guthrie, who was part of a quartet called the Almanac Singers formed by Seeger in the 1940s. Seeger's music inspired Bob Dylan, who called him "a saint," Bruce Springsteen, the Dixie Chicks and Joan Baez, who once said of Seeger, "We all owe our careers to him."
Seeger was known, too, for his left-leaning political activism. He was a lifelong supporter of international disarmament and environmental causes. He was deeply involved in the American Civil Rights Movement, anti-war demonstrations and pacifist causes and the labor movement.
The son of classical musicians, Seeger spent two years at Harvard before dropping out to live as a vagabond throughout most of the 1930s. He began writing music and singing then.
The Almanac Singers disbanded in 1942 when he was drafted into the Army during World War II. He served in the Pacific Theatre and was trained as an airplane mechanic, but was reassigned to perform for troops.
He returned to music after the war. In 1948 he formed The Weavers, which performed and released albums featuring mostly folk standards through the early 1950s. Among their original songs were If I had a Hammer and Kisses Sweeter Than Wine.
Seeger's politics created problems for the group during the McCarthy Era, when The Weavers were blacklisted and called a "Communist group" by an FBI informant who later recanted. In 1961 he was convicted for Contempt of Congress for his earlier refusal to answer questions from the House Committee on Un-American Activities. He was later absolved.
The TV blacklisting began to lift in the mid-1960s and came to an end in 1968 when he appeared on The Smothers Brothers CBS variety show and performed Waist Deep in the Big Muddy.
He was an active participant in the civil rights and anti-war protests of the 1960s, and his reputation grew as an influential composer and mentor to other musicians.
He was among the folksingers who helped make the old spiritual We Shall Overcome the anthem of the American Civil Rights Movement. He said in a 2010 interview that he changed the words from "We will overcome" to "we shall overcome" because "it opened the mouth more," and was easier to sing.
In the 1970s Seeger performed often with Arlo Guthrie, the son of Woody Guthrie, and he began the activism for environmental causes that he maintained throughout his life.
Later in his life he came to be regarded as a 20th century musical icon and the accolades started to pour in. His 1996 album Pete won a Grammy in 1996; he won two more in 2008 and 2011. He was named a "Living Legend" by the Library of Congress in 2000, and also collected The Harvard Arts Medal and the Felix Varela Medal, which is the highest honor awarded by Cuba for his "humanistic and artistic work in defense of the environment and against racism."
He performed at the 2008 inauguration of President Barack Obama, and along with Springsteen and a gospel choir sang all the verses to Woody Guthrie's This Land is Your Land.
Seeger's wife Toshi, whom he married in 1943, died in July 2013. Their first child, Peter Ota Seeger, died at age 6 months while Pete Seeger was serving in the Army – he never saw the child. The couple went on to have three more children and six grandchildren, many of whom performed with him.
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