01/28/2014 AT 2:30 AM ET
Pete Seeger, the banjo-picking troubadour who sang for migrant workers, college students and star-struck presidents in a career that introduced generations of Americans to their folk music heritage, died on Monday at the age of 94.
Seeger’s grandson, Kitama Cahill-Jackson said his grandfather died at New York Presbyterian Hospital, where he’d been for six days. “He was chopping wood 10 days ago,” he said.
Seeger – with his a lanky frame, banjo and full white beard – was an iconic figure in folk music. He performed with the great minstrel Woody Guthrie in his younger days and marched with Occupy Wall Street protesters in his 90s, leaning on two canes.
He wrote or co-wrote “If I Had a Hammer,” “Turn, Turn, Turn,” “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” and “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine.” He lent his voice against Hitler and nuclear power. A cheerful warrior, he typically delivered his broadsides with an affable air and his banjo strapped on.
“Be wary of great leaders,” he told the Associated Press two days after a 2011 Manhattan Occupy march. “Hope that there are many, many small leaders.”
Popularized ‘We Shall Overcome’
With The Weavers, a quartet organized in 1948, Seeger helped set the stage for a national folk revival. The group – Seeger, Lee Hays, Ronnie Gilbert and Fred Hellerman – churned out hit recordings of “Goodnight Irene,” “Tzena, Tzena” and “On Top of Old Smokey.”
Seeger also was credited with popularizing “We Shall Overcome,” which he printed in his publication People’s Song, in 1948. He later said his only contribution to the anthem of the civil rights movement was changing the second word from “will” to “shall,” which he said “opens up the mouth better.”
“Every kid who ever sat around a campfire singing an old song is indebted in some way to Pete Seeger,” Arlo Guthrie once said.
Pete and Toshi Seeger were married July 20, 1943. The couple built their cabin in Beacon, N.Y., after World War II and stayed on the high spot of land by the Hudson River for the rest of their lives together. The couple raised three children. Toshi Seeger died in July at age 91.