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Pete Seeger Dies: Legendary Folk Singer Remembered

8:04 AM, Jan 28, 2014   |    comments
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(Poughkeepsie Journal) -- Pete Seeger, the folk singer from Dutchess Junction who performed at Madison Square Garden and the Beacon Strawberry Festival, the environmentalist who founded the Clearwater organization, and the political activist who marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King, has died at age 94.

Seeger's grandson, Kitama Cahill-Jackson, said his grandfather died Monday at New York Presbyterian Hospital, where he'd been for six days. "He was chopping wood 10 days ago," he said.

Seeger performed with Woody Guthrie and Bruce Springsteen, at Madison Square Garden and President Barack Obama's first inauguration ceremony.

But the man who spurred environmental awareness of pollution in the Hudson River by founding the Clearwater organization never grew too famous to spend time with many Hudson Valley residents he crossed paths with, some at local festivals around the region.

Seeger formed a particularly close bond with a group of kids who performed with him on the CD "Tomorrow's Children."

This album by Pete Seeger with The Rivertown Kids and Friends featured former students from J.V. Forrestal Elementary School in Beacon and won the Grammy in 2011 for Best Musical Album For Children.

Reached by telephone at home shortly after the Grammy win was announced, Seeger told the Journal, "You never can tell. ... I hope it will lead to more folks hearing that nice little record with the children singing songs." Then he said, "So unpredictable" and let out a laugh.

Speaking with the Journal in advance of Earth Day in 2011, Seeger discussed overpopulation.

"It's just one of the problems the human race is going to have to solve, or there won't be any human race on Earth," he said. "On the other hand, it will be fascinating solving these problems - problems of growth; problems of water under us being poisoned by fracking; and the air above being poisoned by nuclear things and so on. And on the other hand, the good and the bad are all tangled up. It's leading to people learning how to get along with each other like never before. It's going to be fascinating."

Seeger also spoke to the Journal on multiple occasions about his interactions with King.

In 1957, Seeger was at the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee for its 25th anniversary. Civil rights activist Rosa Parks and King were also in attendance. A year earlier, the Montgomery bus boycott ended with the desegregation of that Alabama city's bus system.

Seeger performed "We Shall Overcome" at that anniversary celebration for the Highlander School. Seeger said King approached him when he had finished and told him that he enjoyed his performance.

"The next day," Seeger told the Journal, "a friend of mine drove him to a speaking engagement in Kentucky. He was sitting in the back seat, saying, ' "We Shall Overcome,'' that song really sticks.'"

Seeger saw King again in 1965, when Seeger and his wife, Toshi, participated in the historic voting rights march from Selma, Ala., to Montgomery, Ala.

"Both Toshi and I put on our hiking shoes and joined the march," Seeger said. "All the men slept in one big tent, and the women in one big tent, on the side of the road."

Toshi Seeger died in July at age 91.

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