Pete Seeger, who died this week of natural causes at 94, was a walking folk-music almanac, an inspiration to generations of musicians, and a tireless supporter of peace, racial equality and the rights of the working man. He was also an incredibly cool dude.
1. He dropped out of college and explored America.
When he left Harvard (sociology major) after losing his scholarship because of a failed exam, he rode his bicycle from New York City through New England. For lunch, he routinely would sketch a watercolor portrait of a farm, and then knock on the farm's door and offer to trade the watercolor for food.
2. He hit the top of the charts with a Leadbelly cover.
In 1950, the Weavers, the folk group that Seeger anchored, had the best-selling record in the United States for 13 weeks: a cover of Leadbelly's "Goodnight Irene."
3. He built a log cabin that he lived in for many years.
During the night, he performed in New York City with the Weavers. During the day, he cleared land in Beacon, New York, and built a home for his family.
4. He wrote a Number One single for the Byrds.
They topped the charts in 1965 with "Turn! Turn! Turn!"--Seeger's adaptation of a Biblical passage. Since the Book of Ecclesiastes is approximately 5,000 years old, that means that Seeger also wrote the chart-topper with the oldest lyrics ever.
5. He refused to name names before HUAC.
In 1955, when summoned before Joseph McCarthy's House Un-American Activities Committee, he didn't plead the Fifth Amendment, but declined to name the names of other communists, refusing to assist their witchhunt. He was ultimately sentenced to a year in jail for contempt of Congress (the sentence was overturned on appeal).
6. He chopped wood just about every day.
Visitors reported that the woods around his house were so clean, it looked as if they had been swept.
7. He never stopped fighting for his ideals.
In a 2006 New Yorker profile, Alec Wilkinson quoted a friend who saw the 84-year-old Seeger standing by the side of the highway as the Iraq war ramped up, holding up a sign for passing traffic: "He's just standing out there in the cold and the sleet like a scarecrow. I go a little bit down the road, so that I can turn and come back, and when I get him in view again, this solitary and elderly figure, I see that what he's written on the sign is 'Peace.'"
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