The Sunday Magazine

Before he was singing songs of peace, Pete Seeger was denounced as a radical

As part of a special hour devoted to Pete Seeger after his death, The Sunday Edition reached deep into the archives, back to Enright's As It Happens days in 1995, when he interviewed Seeger. At the time, the musician was 75 and had lost none of his vigor or indignation at a culture that values money over people and community.

The political establishment blacklisted Seeger as a communist

Singer Pete Seeger performing at the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize special outdoor tribute at Riverside Park, N.Y. on September 3, 2009. (Credit: Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images)

Originally published in 1995.

When we think of Pete Seeger now, many of us might have an image of a kindly, principled, grandfatherly man singing songs of peace, love, justice, harmony and freedom. The songs he's most associated with — like Where Have All The Flowers Gone?, If I Had a Hammer, Turn, Turn, Turn and We Shall Overcome — hardly sound threatening or seditious.

And yet, in the post-Second World War era, the political establishment despised him and denounced Seeger as a radical. He was blacklisted as a communist.

While Woody Guthrie wrote the words "This Machine Kills Fascists" on his guitar, Seeger inscribed on his banjo the words, This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender. And his songs became the anthems of protest and progressive change for a generation fed up with war, economic inequality and racial injustice.

In this Aug. 28, 1948, file photo, U.S. presidential candidate Henry A. Wallace, listens to Pete Seeger on a plane between Norfolk and Richmond, Va. The Federal Bureau of Investigation released more than 1,700 pages of documents about Seeger after the folk singer died at age 94, in January 2014. (File Photo/Associated Press)

Michael Enright, former host of The Sunday Edition, put it this way in his tribute to the legendary singer-songwriter, after Seeger's death in 2014 at the age of 94:

"Pete Seeger always seemed to be there, whether there was a protest march, a picket line, a civil rights demonstration, an occupation — through all the dark and turbulent times in the United States from the '40s to the '90s and beyond.

"He sang for all audiences — rich, poor, black, white, young, old, communist, socialist — decade after decade because, as he liked to say, in the power of song 'there is hope for the world.'"

Once society and mainstream politics caught up with, and saw the righteousness of, Seeger's message, he became something of a secular saint. As his fervent admirer Bruce Springsteen told him, "Pete, you outlasted the bastards."

As part of a special hour devoted to Seeger after his death, we reached deep into the pre-Sunday Edition archives, back to Enright's As It Happens days in 1995, when he interviewed Seeger. At the time, the musician was 75 and had lost none of his vigor or indignation at a culture that values money over people and community. 

Click 'listen' above to hear the full interview.

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