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 Lead Belly’s “Goodnight, Irene”, which topped the charts for 13 weeks in 1950.
Born on the 3rd of May 1919 at the French Hospital, Midtown Manhattan, 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.
At four, Seeger was sent away to boarding school, but came home two years later, when his parents learned the school had failed to inform them he had contracted scarlet fever.
He attended first and second grades in Nyack, New York, where his mother lived, before entering boarding school in Ridgefield, Connecticut.
Despite being classical musicians, his parents did not press him to play an instrument.
On his own, the otherwise bookish and withdrawn boy gravitated to the ukulele, becoming adept at entertaining his classmates with it, while laying the basis for his subsequent remarkable audience rapport.
At thirteen, Seeger enrolled in the Avon Old Farms School in Avon, Connecticut from which he graduated in 1936.
His Yankee-Protestant family, which Seeger called “enormously Christian, in the Puritan, Calvinist New England tradition”, traced its genealogy back over 200 years.
A paternal ancestor, Karl Ludwig Seeger, a physician from Württemberg, Germany, had emigrated to America during the American Revolution and married into the old New England family of Parsons in the 1780s.
Pete’s father, the Harvard-trained composer and musicologist Charles Louis Seeger, Jr., was born in Mexico City, Mexico, to American parents.
Charles established the first musicology curriculum in the U.S. at the University of California in 1913, helped found the American Musicological Society, and was a key founder of the academic discipline of ethnomusicology.
In 1943, Pete married Toshi-Aline Ōta, whom he credited with being the support that helped make the rest of his life possible.
The couple remained married until Toshi’s death in July 2013. Their first child, Peter Ōta Seeger, was born in 1944 and died at six months, while Pete was deployed overseas.
Pete never saw him. They went on to have three more children: Daniel (an accomplished photographer and filmmaker), Mika (a potter and muralist), and Tinya (a potter), as well as grandchildren Tao Rodríguez-Seeger (a musician), Cassie (an artist), Kitama Cahill-Jackson (a filmmaker), Moraya (a graduate student married to the NFL player Chris DeGeare), Penny, and Isabelle.
Tao is a folk musician in his own right, who sings and plays guitar, banjo, and harmonica with the Mammals.
Seeger received three musical Grammy Awards and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, among various other honors, during his lifetime.