PETE SEEGER MUSIC AND SOCIAL ISSUE IMPACT 8
PeteSeeger Music and Social Issue Impact
PeteSeeger Music and Impact on Social Issues
PeteSeeger was introduced to rural American music by his father who hadtaken him to square-dance festivals in North Carolina. He used thetraditional five-string banjo as the main instrument in his music. Heestablished himself as a mentor for folk music and topical singers.He had undying need to preserve the traditional folk music in theAmerican culture (Winkler, 2009). He attained this by constantlyrecycling and revising old music that had existed in the previouseras. In 1950’s he spearheaded the American folk music revival andspent a long profession in music. This he did to champion thetraditional American music as well as use music as a catalyst forsocial change.
Petehad hit radio waves by the end of the 1940s. In 1950s, he became amember of the weavers’ band. Together with his band members, theywere able to top music charts for 13 weeks in 1950s. During thisperiod they emerged as prominent public musicians who engaged inprotest songs. They were in support of international disarmament,counter culture, civil rights and environmental courses (Winkler,2009). He used music solely to address social injustices that wererampant at that time. He believed in the power of the community andhe knew that power can bring positive actions.
However,he was met with brutal hostility by those he was seen to beprotesting against in the then government. The weavers’ band grewto become a national sensation and brought into attention the need toaddress the issues that the country and the American people weresubjected by the then unfair government. In its quest to fight backand retain their position, the government blacklisted the weavers offthe radio waves. Pete was summoned by the Un-American Activitiescommittee on 18thAugust 1955 where he testified. In his testimony, he maintained hisprinciples of individual rights of association, political beliefs andaffiliations (Winkler, 2009). He was thus charged with contempt tothe congress. He was tried and found guilty and sentenced to aone-year jail term.
Americawas faced with racial injustices that were mainly aimed to the blackcommunities. There were unfair judicial trials that were aimed atfrustrating the rights of the black community. There were hundreds ofblack people who were lynched, brutally murdered and wronglyconvicted for crimes they did not commit. There were massivesegregation policies in the health care industry and educationalsystems (Oberschall, 2005). Inequality was rampant and the order ofthe day in the early American culture.
Oneof the most influential songs by Pete Seeger was “We shallovercome.” At the time, the song became one of the anthems of thecivil rights movements (Hays & Koppelman, 2003). He clearlydemonstrates that the human race can accomplish whatever good coursethey intend to put their focus on. The song was released when therewas a growing trend in the American population that spoke againstthese injustices and inequalities, Pete among them. Many blackAmericans had been fighting against these racial discriminations forcenturies by then. However, it was in the 1950’s that that problembecame the main conventional way of life in the American people.Among the many actions that sparked equality movements was thenationwide boycott of the black communities of the then buscompanies. In addition, there were immigration problems that made thethen government target the Mexican communities. They were harassedand also brutally shipped back to their home countries (Cordero,2015).
Petemet with some black movement leaders, notably Martin Luther andsuggested to incorporate their demand in songs. They were going touse the songs and address these social injustices that were tearingapart the country (Roy, 2010). Pete composed the song “We shallovercome” that was used as an anthem by these civil movements formany years, until their demands were later met. This particular songhas continued to be used to date by the oppressed group ofindividuals that have a strong desire to have a rightful recognitionin the society. Pete used such songs to bring social change where hebelieved in the collective action of the concerned communities.
Petehad a strong desire for a peaceful coexistence in the globalcommunities. He advocated to world peace during this period whenthere was war during the Vietnamese war. It was believed thatcommunism was a threat to democracy and capitalism everywhere. As aresult, it was decided during this period that there was a strongneed to constrain democracy by the use of threats, force or diplomacy(Oberschall, 2005). This need had come to shape the American foreignpolicies for decades. Many Americans believed that these communistswere in a position to destroy America either externally orinternally.
Duringthis World War II, this singer and creative artist came up with manypatriotic songs. These songs were also anti-fascists that had agrowing audience and were aired on radios (Roy, 2010). Many peopleresonated with the singer on the need for world peace. He had createdmany anti war songs that were mainly aimed to bring to the attentionof the need of global integration and peace. He was specificallyvocal in the Vietnamese war where he urged the American troops todescend from Vietnam.
Inhis song the “waist deep in the big muddy”, gained a lot ofaudience and the support of the American population. But because itwas a song that was against the desires and actions of thegovernment, the song was consequently censored by the CBS. The songmetaphorically described Vietnam as the “Quagmire”. It alsoillustrates President Lyndon B. Johnson as “The big fool”. Who iscontinually depicted saying “push on”. That song was specificallyloved and treasured by the peace loving movements in the UnitedStates who demanded the performance of that song on CBS. After monthsof storming protests, it was eventually aired (Winkler, 2009). Thisillustrates that Pete was successful in using his music to bringabout social changes as well as world peace. He championed noblecourses such as nuclear disarmaments and peace at the moment whenthese were threatening to bring the whole planet in a chaos of war.
“IfI had a hammer” was a song that came into the spotlight in the1950’s to addressing the social injustices. He authored that songthat was sung and brought to fame by Lee Hays to advocate forequality and social justice (Hays & Koppelman, 2003). It is asong that integrates all people to sing together about freedom,justice and love amongst people (Winkler, 2009). That song wasspecifically used by the civil rights movement and it grew popular tobecome the movement’s anthem. Songs were greatest agitators foraddressing social injustices. They created a sense of oneness andstrength to attaining the deprived social needs.
Petehas successfully demonstrated that songs could be indeed used tobring into attention matters that were dear in his heart. This songwas used all over the United States to help address the need ofequality (Hays & Koppelman, 2003). It so happened when there weregreat social disparities among the people of America. There wasextreme racial discrimination and racial supremacy during that periodwhen one race sought to be more relevant and dominant than the rest.That song was used in street protests and all civil movement meetingsto agitate for the need and urgent desire for racial integration inthe United States (Roy, 2010).
Moreover,that song also helped address the need of gender integration (Roy,2010). Women were considered at that time lesser deserving humanbeings amongst the people of America. They had little or norecognition of their constitutional rights. They were discriminatedagainst in the running and daily operations of the United States. Infact their roles were reduced in that period to taking care of theirhusbands and children. That period represented a cry for genderrecognition that would help to fully accommodate the women in thesociety with individuals with equal rights and privileges.
Hence,in 1960’s social movements to address these problems of genderinequality was wide spread. They had seen what other social movementshad achieved in the previous years through a unified course and sothey wished to use the same tactics in their course of equalrepresentation in the society. Women came together and help socialprotests and integrated songs in their protest to make their pointsail through the nation. They sang “if I had a hammer’, a song byPete to bring social change.
Theyadopted this move because they had seen it effective in other socialmovements such as the civil rights movements and the labor movements.It is clear that this song stood up against the kind of intimidationthat American faced every day. People were being intimidated based onthe color of their skin, their gender, personal beliefs orphilosophies and political affiliations (Winkler, 2009). Theoppressed in the society freely used his songs to addressing theirsocial concerns over the years.
Heused this organization as a vessel to champion and educate theimportance of preserving the national resources for futuregenerations to use. Pete was a committed environmentalist whotogether with his wife built a cabin where they lived. In an earlierinterview to discuss this shift in personal culture, he reported thathe felt spiritually integrated with the wild. Thus he used hisposition in the society to help with the shift of the culture ofdestruction of the environment (Winkler, 2009). He demonstrated thathuman beings could also live in harmony with the wild and theenvironment. He championed the creation of a non-profit organizationcalled the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater. This organization wasresponsible for cleaning the Hudson River.
Peteinspired many grassroots movements that were addressing their socialconcerns and justice. The songs inspired the civil movements, thestriking workers calling on their legislators for better wages,defending of houses against foreclosure or working towards closingthe inequality gap in wages (Winkler, 2009). All these movements wereall important in helping bring about progressive policies that wouldintegrate all people despite color or gender. Social justices wereimportant to bring about peace and healthy environment to work andraise families. Music played a big role in bringing about suchchanges in the society by 1960’s.
Cordero,A. (2015). Handbookof social movements across Latin America.New York. Springer
Hays,L., & Koppelman, R. (2003). "SingOut, Warning! Sing Out, Love!": The Writings of Lee Hays.Massachusetts:University of Massachusetts Press
Oberschall,A. (2005). SocialMovements: Interests and Identities.New Brunswick. Transaction Publishers
Roy,W. (2010). Reds,Whites, Blues Social movements and folk music across America.New Jersey. Princeton University Press.
Winkler,A. (2009). ToEverything There is a Season Pete Seeger and the social change.New York. Routledge Press