He was variously hailed in social and traditional media as a
"hero", "America's conscience" and "A man of the people".
Seeger died of natural causes at New York-Presbyterian Hospital,
his record company, Appleseed Recordings, said.
Seeger was well known for his liberal politics, working as an
environmentalist, protesting against wars from Vietnam to Iraq.
He was sentenced to prison for refusing to testify to Congress
about his time in the Communist Party.
In January 2009, Seeger performed at a concert marking Barack
Obama's presidential inauguration.
He then celebrated his 90th birthday in May of that year with a
concert in New York's Madison Square Garden that drew 15,000
spectators and performers, including Bruce Springsteen, John
Mellencamp, Emmylou Harris, Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez and Kris
Kristofferson. Proceeds went an environmental group Seeger
"Like a ripple that keeps going out from a pond, Mr. Seeger's
music will keep going out all over the world spreading the
message of non-violence and peace and justice and equality for
all," Jim Musselman of Appleseed Recordings said in a statement.
Seeger and Woody Guthrie started the Almanac Singers in the
early 1940s and in 1949 Seeger was a founding member of another
key folk group, the Weavers. Those groups opened the way for Bob
Dylan and another generation of folk music singer/songwriters in
the 1960s and '70s.
The Weavers had a No. 1 hit with a version of Leadbelly's "Good
Night, Irene" and by 1952 the group had sold more than 4 million
records. The members soon drifted apart, however, after being
blacklisted for links to the Communist Party.
Seeger and Lee Hays wrote "If I Had a Hammer" for the Weavers,
along with the hit "So Long, It's Been Good to Know You".
Seeger also wrote the modern classic "Turn! Turn! Turn!" with
lyrics from the Bible's Ecclesiastes and "Where Have All the
Flowers Gone" with Joe Hickerson. But he was modest about his
"Hardly any of my songs have been written entirely by me," he
once said in an interview. "I swiped things here and there and
wrote new verses" to old tunes.
"LOST MY HEART TO THE BANJO"
Seeger, born on May 3, 1919 in Patterson, New York, was the son
of two teachers at the famed Juilliard School of Music — his
father an ethnomusicologist and his mother a violinist.
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He became interested in folk music through his
father, who directed family friend Aaron Copland to the music of
West Virginia coal miners, resulting in the classical music works
"Appalachian Spring" and "Fanfare for the Common Man."
Another of his father's friends was folk archivist
Alan Lomax, who hired the younger Seeger to classify recordings at
the Library of Congress in Washington.
A key moment in Seeger's life was attending a mountain dance
festival in North Carolina with his father.
"I lost my heart to the banjo," he said later. "It was an exciting
sound and there was a kind of honesty in country music that I didn't
find in pop music."
In 1938, Seeger dropped out of Harvard University and took his banjo
on the road. During his travels he met Guthrie at a benefit concert
for California migrant farm workers.
Seeger's career was derailed in 1951 when a book
listed the Weavers as Communists. During the next year, the group's
record company dropped them and they were refused radio, television
and concert appearances.
Seeger had been a Communist Party member but left about 1950. Still,
he refused to answer questions from the U.S. House of
Representatives Un-American Activities Committee in 1955, was
prosecuted and sentenced to a year in jail in 1961. The conviction
was overturned on appeal but Seeger's career did not begin to
recover until the Smothers Brothers invited him to appear on their
television show in 1967.
Seeger spent the next two decades performing on
college campuses, at folk festivals and political rallies.
Despite his impact on American music, Seeger won just one Grammy for
an album, 1997's "Pete" in the best traditional folk album category.
He also received a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 1993.
In 2007 Springsteen won the best traditional folk Grammy for "We
Shall Overcome — the Seeger Sessions," a collection of songs
popularized by Seeger.
He was a founder of Clearwater, a group to clean up the Hudson
River, and wrote children's books.
Seeger's wife Toshi, whom he married in 1941, died in 2013. They
lived in upstate New York and had three children.
(Additional reporting by Mary Milliken;
editing by Bill Trott and Jeremy Gaunt)
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