Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Pete Seeger: American Hero

Since we've been thinking about life stories and justice this quarter, and since we also considered the pantheon of New Trier's Hall of Fame, I started thinking about my American heroes. My top choice is Pete Seeger, the great folk singer, activist, and peace lover. Pete routinely sang at Farm Aid in recent years alongside Eddie Vedder, Neil Young, and John Mellencamp -- a feat all the more amazing when you consider that Pete Seeger just died -- at 94 years old!  You may already know about his work with his buddy,Woody Guthrie, who wrote This Land Is Your Land. You can learn more about Seeger on a recent NPR piece, profiling his extra-ordinary life.

In this post, I'd like to hear about the American heroes you admire and why. If you can, please provide examples of their heroism. I'll go first:


I first heard Pete when my wife — then my college girlfriend — and I went on our first date to...where else? A Pete Seeger concert! But Pete's not just a folk music hero in my house; he's also known around the world as a man of tremendous principle, who has truly lived his convictions. Some examples: He married a Japanese woman in the 1940's when our country was throwing over a hundred thousand Japanese-Americans (most U.S. citizens) in prison camps. He fought tirelessly for civil rights, singing with the great African-American baritone, Paul Robeson, when it nearly cost him his life. He inspired many famous civil rights leaders, including Julian Bond, who credits Seeger for opposing Jim Crow laws long before "the Movement" really got underway. Pete even wrote some of the lyrics to "We Shall Overcome." He fought for unions and for the common working man — and woman (since he also advocated equality among the sexes). Check out his song "I'm Gonna Be an Engineer" and then think about the stories that women are able to tell.  Last, Seeger traveled the world, recording and archiving world music like no one had ever done before.

For these actions he was branded a Communist and banned from appearing on TV for 17 years just when he had reached the height of his popularity. When the ban was finally lifted he shocked everyone by singing an anti-Vietnam War song called "The Big Muddy." Since then he has sung to end apartheid in South Africa and almost single-handedly galvanized efforts to clean-up the Hudson River. As recently as four years ago he was nominated for yet another Grammy Award in the category of folk music.  Who are your heroes?