In this day and age of self- aggrandizing pop stars, It is hard for today’s generation to imagine that there ever existed a selfless singer of song who’s only concern was the causes he sang about and not his celebrity.
Well there was, and still exists a man of such integrity. Our last living American folk hero, Pete Seeger. A champion of the disenfranchised since the 1940’s, Pete has been railing against war, pollution, racism, greed, and social injustice for eight decades. He bravely risked a 10 year prison sentence for defying Senator Joe McCarthy’s witch hunt in the 50’s and popularized the civil rights anthem and “We Shall Overcome” for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s historic march in the 60’s. His anti-war song “Knee Deep in the Big Muddy” became a force in ending the Vietnam War. He founded the Clearwater organization which continues to clean up the Hudson River. Ninety four and still fighting the good fight, he recently performed at the farm aide concert, leading Willie Nelson, Dave Mathews, Neil Young in song against fracking.
It’s because he sings for things like justice and the environment and not for record sales that he is so admired. Besides being in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and winning a Grammy at 90, he has been bestowed with the National Medal of Arts and a Kennedy Center Honor. He was chosen to sing at President Obama’s historic first inauguration.Bruce Springsteen devoted an entire album of Pete’s songs. As an artist who’s known for creating work that challenges people to think more deeply about many of the same issues Pete sings about, he is certainly an inspiration to me personally. That’s why I recently took time off from my sociopolitical paintings to create the portrait of Pete titled “Beacon Of Hope” that hangs at the Towne Crier Cafe in Pete’s (and my) hometown of Beacon, NY, where the locals cherish their own national treasure.
There is currently a greatly deserved petition to nominate him for the Nobel Prize.
Somehow I don’t think Kanye West will ever get nominated for a Nobel Prize, unless he nominates himself. What makes Pete so special is that he doesn’t really care about all these honors, he only cares about the making the world a fairer place for generations and trying to preserve it for future ones.