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Death of an American folk (music) hero

You don’t have to admire all of Pete Seeger’s political choices to appreciate what a profoundly important role he played in folk music.

Beginning in the 1940s, Seeger and his friend Woody Guthrie were the creative leaders of a movement that transformed traditionally simple American songs and instruments into a powerful new sound.

As the calm of the 1950s yielded to the intensity of the ’60s, the lure of laid-back sing-alongs, banjo-picking and strummed acoustic guitars morphed into protest songs – music with a message and a purpose. It was in that era that Seeger wrote or helped popularize such classic songs as “If I Had a Hammer,” “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?,” “Turn, Turn, Turn” and the civil rights anthem, “We Shall Overcome.”

Ironically, Seeger himself, who had been a member of the Communist Party in his younger days, was banned from the nation’s media for much of that era.

In today’s digital world, it would be impossible to prevent a talented performer such as Seeger from reaching a mass audience.

But for years, Seeger traveled from small venue to small venue, singing his songs in relative anonymity as performers who had been inspired by him, like Peter, Paul and Mary, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, became household names.

Seeger continued to record, perform and protest until shortly before his death this week at 94. His sheer enthusiasm and his belief in the power of music to bring people together transcended politics.