Peter "Pete" Seeger (born May 3, 1919) is an American folk singer and an iconic figure in the mid-twentieth century American folk music revival A fixture on nationwide radio in the 1940s, he also had a string of hit records during the early 1950s as a member of The Weavers, most notably their recording of Leadbelly's "Goodnight, Irene," which topped the charts for 13 weeks in 1950. Members of The Weavers were blacklisted during the McCarthy Era. In the 1960s, he re-emerged on the public scene as a prominent singer of protest music in support of international disarmament, civil rights, and environmental causes.
As a song writer, he is best known as the author or co-author of "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?," "If I Had a Hammer (The Hammer Song)," (composed with Lee Hays of The Weavers), and "Turn, Turn, Turn!," which have been recorded by many artists both in and outside the folk revival movement and are still sung throughout the world. "Flowers" was a hit recording for The Kingston Trio (1962), Marlene Dietrich, who recorded it in English, German and French (1962), and Johnny Rivers (1965). "If I Had a Hammer" was a hit for Peter, Paul & Mary (1962) and Trini Lopez (1963), while The Byrds popularized "Turn, Turn, Turn!" in the mid-1960s, as did Judy Collins in 1964. Seeger was one of the folksingers most responsible for popularizing the spiritual "We Shall Overcome" (also recorded by Joan Baez and many other singer-activists) that became the acknowledged anthem of the 1960s American Civil Rights Movement, soon after folk singer and activist Guy Carawan introduced it at the founding meeting of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1960.
Seeger was born in French Hospital, Midtown Manhattan, the youngest of three sons. He came from a distinguished, prosperous family, which he described as "enormously Christian, in the Puritan, Calvinist New England tradition." His father, Charles Louis Seeger Jr. was a violinist and composer who had studied music at Harvard. His mother, Constance de Clyver Edson, also came from an excellent family, was a classical violinist and teacher, raised in Tunisia and trained at the Paris Conservatory of Music and the Julliard School. Soon after their 1911 wedding, the couple had moved to Berkeley, California, where Charles Seeger took up a position as professor of music. Facing opposition from his university colleagues, he became a pioneering ethnomusicologist, investigating both Native American and American folk music. In 1914, Charles Seeger, who had previously been apolitical, had a political awakening when he became aware of the lives of migrant workers in California. His subsequent left-wing activism, which included opposition to World War I, led to deteriorating relations with the university, and in September 1918, he took a "sabbatical"; the entire family, including a pregnant Constance, moved back to the Seeger family home home in Patterson, New York. His parents divorced when Seeger was seven. His stepmother, Ruth Crawford Seeger, was one of the most significant female composers of the twentieth century. His eldest brother, Charles Seeger III, was a radio astronomer, and his next older brother, John Seeger, taught in the 1950s at the Dalton School in Manhattan and was the principal from 1960 to 1976 at Fieldston Lower School in the Bronx. His uncle, Alan Seeger, a noted poet, was killed during the First World War. His half-sister, Peggy Seeger, also a well-known folk performer, was married for many years to British folk singer Ewan MacColl. Half-brother Mike Seeger went on to form the New Lost City Ramblers, one of whose members, John Cohen, was married to Pete's other half-sister, singer Penny Seeger, also a highly talented singer.