Legendary folk musician and Beacon resident Pete Seeger passed away on Monday, January 27, 2014 at New York City’s Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. He was 94.
A lifelong political activist, Seeger was a respected figure in environmentalism, spearheading the petition that helped pass the Clean Water Act in 1972 and established the Federal Water Pollution Control Act. As founder of Hudson River Sloop Clearwater Inc. and the Great Hudson River Revival, he and his wife Toshi (who, sadly, passed away last year just before their 70th wedding anniversary) worked tirelessly to educate locals about the importance of preservation, and frequently hosted concerts to raise awareness and promote civil rights and peace. The Clearwater continues to serve as a “sailing classroom” on its regular voyages from New York City to Albany.
Seeger’s mark on music is incomparable. After a brief stint at Harvard, he rose to fame throughout the ’40s and ’50s performing with American folk group the Weavers, selling more than four million albums worldwide. As a solo performer and storyteller, he found a dedicated following among youth with anti-war concerts at colleges, churches, and summer camps across the country. Artists like Bob Dylan and Don McLean credit Seeger as a major influence on their musical careers.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Lifetime Achievement Award-winner, and multi-Grammy Award-winner continued to make music and perform until his final days, including a rendition of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” — alongside Bruce Springsteen and grandson Tao Rodríguez-Seeger — at President Barack Obama’s Inauguration in 2009. That same year, he celebrated his 90th birthday at Madison Square Garden; attended by Springsteen and Dave Matthews, the concert doubled as a fund-raiser to support Clearwater’s efforts to keep the Hudson Valley environmentally sound.
Locally, Hudson Valley readers named Seeger the Valley’s “Best Local Musician” in 2008 and 2009, and “Best Artist” in 2012. The editors of this magazine also recently named Seeger one of the Hudson Valley’s most influential people.