Pete Seeger Deserves One More Honor - the Nobel Peace Prize

More than 15,000 admirers celebrated Pete Seeger's 90th birthday
with him at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, which included a greeting
from President Barack Obama.

Since the late 1930s, Seeger has been a political activist and a
troubadour for social justice in the U.S. and human rights around the
world. He has used his remarkable talents as a performer, musician,
songwriter, and folklorist to engage other people, from all walks of
life, across generations and cultures, in causes to build a better and
more civilized world. He almost singlehandedly popularized the notion
that music can be a force for social change.

This was evident Sunday at Madison Square Garden. The crowd included
some of America's most respected musical performers -- including Bruce
Springsteen, Dave Matthews, Emmylou Harris, Kris Kristofferson, Joan
Baez, Tom Paxton, Richie Havens, Billy Bragg, Rufus Wainwright, Bela
Fleck, Taj Mahal, Bruce Cockburn, Roger McGuinn, Bernice Reagon, Ben
Harper, Steve Earle, Del McCoury, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Dar Williams,
Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Tom Morello, Tony Trischka, Ani DiFranco, the
Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and John Mellencamp.

They sang their own songs, traditional songs ("Jacob's Ladder"),
children's songs ("There's a Hole in the Bucket"), and protest songs
("We Shall Overcome") that Seeger popularized over the past 70 years,
as well as some of Seeger's compositions, including "Where Have All the
Flowers Gone?", "If I Had a Hammer," "Turn, Turn, Turn" (drawn from
Ecclesiastes), "Bring 'Em Home," and "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy."
Seeger joined in on several numbers with his banjo and also led the
crowd in singing "Goodnight, Irene" and an a cappella version of
"Amazing Grace."

Indeed, amazing grace defines Seeger's life and legacy. Most of the
people in the audience were Pete's musical and political followers who
have been inspired by his songs and his lifelong activism, including
his principled stances that threatened his career but which ultimately
turned him into a national treasure. Many were baby-boomers now in
their 50s and 60s, but younger activists in their 20s and 30s have also
discovered Seeger's music and his crusades for human rights and the
environment. Seeger OK'd Sunday's event because it raised funds for the
Clearwater project, a nonprofit organization Seeger started in 1969 to
clean up the polluted Hudson River.

Through persistence and unrelenting optimism, Seeger endured and
overcame the controversies triggered by his lifetime of activism for
social justice. His critics faded away and the nation's cultural and
political establishment eventually began to recognize Seeger's unique

Sunday's event took place only a few months after Seeger sang at
Obama's inaugural celebration at the Lincoln Memorial in January--
leading more than half a million people on the mall and millions of
people watching on TV in a rendition of his friend Woody Guthrie's
anthem, "This Land is Your Land."

In 1994, at age 75, he received the National Medal of Arts (the
highest award given to artists and arts patrons by the U.S. government)
as well as the Kennedy Center Honor, where President Bill Clinton
called him "an inconvenient artist, who dared to sing things as he saw
them." In 1996, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
because of his influence on so many rock performers. In 1997, Seeger
won the Grammy Award for his 18-track compilation album, "Pete."

In the past decade, some of the nation's most prominent singers have
recorded albums honoring Seeger, including Springsteen's "Seeger
Sessions." Last year, PBS broadcast a 93-minute documentary on Seeger's
life, "The Power of Song." Seeger is now, despite his ambivalence about
commercial success, a part of American popular culture. In a segment of
the popular TV show, Law and Order, a character says, "The Hudson River's clean now, thanks to Pete Seeger!"

So, what is left for the 90-year old folksinger to accomplish?

How about the Nobel Peace Prize?

Indeed, his admirers have launched a campaign, a petition (signed so far by over 28,000 individuals), and a website to nominate Seeger for this honor.

It is much deserved.

Seeger is without doubt the most influential folk artist of the past
century. No one can get a crowd singing like Seeger. The songs he's
written, and those he's popularized, including "This Land is Your
Land," "Guantanamera," "Wimoweh," and "We Shall Overcome," have been
recorded by hundreds of artists in many languages and become global
anthems for people fighting for freedom. His songs are sung by people
in cities and villages around the world, promoting the basic idea that
the hopes that unite us are greater than the fears that divide us.

"If the world is to survive," Seeger recently said, "the whole human
race must realize how important it is that we learn how to communicate
with each other, even if we disagree strongly."

In addition to being a much-acclaimed and innovative guitarist and
banjoist, a globe-trotting minstrel and song collector, and the author
of many songbooks and musical how-to manuals, Seeger has been on the
front lines of every key progressive crusade during his lifetime --
labor unions and migrant workers in the 1930s and 1940s, banning
nuclear weapons and opposing the Cold War in the 1950s, civil rights
and the anti-Vietnam war movement in the 1960s, environmental
responsibility and opposition to South African apartheid in the 1970s,
and, always, human rights throughout the world.

During World War Two, while serving in the military, Seeger
performed for soldiers and for First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. In the
1960s, he sang with civil rights workers at rallies and churches in the
South and at the march from Selma to Montgomery. In a letter to Seeger,
Rev. Martin Luther King thanked him for his "moral support and
Christian generosity." When Seeger launched the sloop Clearwater (near
his home in Beacon, New York) and an annual celebration dedicated to
cleaning up the polluted Hudson River, he helped inspire the
environmental movement.

For a brief period in the 1950s, as a member of the Weavers folk
quartet, Seeger achieved commercial success, with several chart-topping
songs that reflected his eclectic repertoire - Huddie Ledbetter's "Good
Night Irene," "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine," "On Top of Old Smokey," and
the Israeli tune, "Tzena, Tzena."

But his career was soon torpedoed by McCarthyism because of his
political activism and outspoken views. The Weavers broke up and Seeger
was blacklisted for almost two decades. He was kept out of many
colleges and concert halls. He was kept off network television in the
1950s and 1960s until the Smothers Brothers defiantly invited him on
their CBS variety show in 1967. True to his principles, Seeger insisted
on singing a controversial anti-war song, "Waist Deep in the Big
Muddy." CBS censors refused to air the song, but public outrage forced
the network to relent and allow him to perform the song on the show a
few months later.

During the blacklist years, Seeger scratched together a living by
giving guitar and banjo lessons and singing at the small number of
summer camps, churches, high schools and colleges, and union halls that
were courageous enough invite the controversial balladeer.

Eventually, however, Seeger's audience grew. He helped catalyze the
folk music revival of the 1960s, encouraging young performers and
helping start the Newport Folk Festival. Many prominent musicians,
including those who performed at his birthday party on Sunday, and
those who couldn't make it (like Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks and
Bonne Raitt), consider Seeger a role model and trace their musical
roots to his influence. Seeger's albums -- he's recorded over 80 of
them, including children's songs, labor and protest songs, traditional
American folk songs, international songs, and Christmas songs -- began
to sell to wider audiences. His travels around the world -- collecting
songs and performing in many languages -- inspired today's world music
movement. Among performers across the globe, Seeger became a symbol of
a principled artist deeply engaged in the world.

A truly modest man, Seeger has become a reluctant icon. But he
deserves at least one more moment on the world stage -- at the Nobel
Peace Prize ceremony in Norway. The prize is only bestowed on people
who are living. Although still vital, with more energy than people
years younger, Seeger is now 90. It would be a fitting and
much-deserved final tribute for the world's preeminent troubadour for
peace and justice.

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