Media Encomiums for Pete Seeger Omit Radical Background

By:  Bob Adelmann
Media Encomiums for Pete Seeger Omit Radical Background

Pete Seeger's involvement and promotion of radical communist causes and fronts during his lifetime was deliberately glossed over in accounts of his death by the mainstream media.

In announcing the death of folksinger Pete Seeger (shown in photo) Monday night at the age of 94, the mainstream media applauded his lifetime of singing, as the Washington Post put it, “songs of love, peace, brotherhood, work and protest” and called him a "20th-century troubadour” known for popularizing “If I Had a Hammer,” “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” and especially the “anthem of the civil rights movement”: “We Shall Overcome.”

The Post noted only briefly Seeger’s close relationship with Woody Guthrie, from whom he “learned to express political and social criticism through music and song.” The Almanac Singers, founded by Seeger, were given scant mention, the paper referring to members Guthrie and Seeger as “colleagues” rather than the more appropriate appellation “comrades.”

The Post couldn't wait to get past all that now-irrelevant history to spend the rest of its paean of praise in how the brave new world celebrated Seeger, first by noting the honor bestowed on him in 1994 at the Kennedy Center Honors ceremony where then-President Bill Clinton called Seeger “an inconvenient artist who dared to sing things as he saw them.” Gushed the Post, “by the dawn of the new millennium, Mr. Seeger had become the widely acknowledged … grand old man of American folk music.”

It was true, said the Post, that after dropping out of Harvard in 1937, Seeger briefly “attended meetings of the Communist Party,” and then went on to form a singing group called The Weavers after the end of the war. He was also convicted of contempt of Congress after refusing to answer questions posed to him by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), but the paper noted that his conviction was overthrown thanks to a “technical flaw” and “the government never retried him.”

But all that is forgiven, according to the Post, and “until the end of his life he remained a beloved figure.” So beloved was Seeger that he and Bruce Springsteen performed “This Land is Your Land” at a concert at the Lincoln Memorial during President Obama’s second inaugural celebration.

Lost down the memory hole is the background of The Almanac singers, The Weavers, as well as any mention of Zilphia Horton or the Highlander School, or the publishing company People’s Songs, which Seeger founded to promote his music.

The Pete Seeger Appreciation Page was equally effusive, calling Seeger “America’s best-loved folksinger,” an “untiring environmentalist,” and a “beacon of hope for millions of people all over the world.” Its author reminded the Seeger faithful that he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996 and, even though he never graduated from Harvard, in that same year Seeger was awarded the Harvard Arts Medal for his “contribution to the arts.” In 1999, he traveled to Cuba, that land of “love, peace and brotherhood,” to receive Cuba’s highest honor for “his humanistic and artistic work in defense of the environment and against racism.”

The reporting by the Associated Press of Seeger’s death was scarcely any better at telling the rest of his story, noting that Seeger was an “iconic figure in folk music,” and that he performed with “the great Woody Guthrie” and “marched with Occupy Wall Street protesters in his 90s.” The AP lamented that Seeger was “kept off commercial television for more than a decade” following his confrontation with the HUAC and noted that Seeger was incensed at the committee’s questions into his Communist Party affiliations:

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