Folk Music Legend Pete Seeger Commemorated On U.S. Stamp

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An American folk music legend is getting his own postage stamp.

The United States Postal Service has issued a Forever commemorative stamp Thursday honoring the late folk singer and activist Pete Seeger—the latest addition to the agency's Music Icons stamp series.

The Seeger stamp will be dedicated at a first-day issue ceremony Thursday evening at the Jane Pickens Theater in Newport, Rhode Island—the city where the famed Newport Folk Festival, which was co-founded by Seeger, is held annually. A concert will follow the ceremony.

The stamp image depicting the singer is from a photo taken by his son, Dan Seeger, in the early 1960s.

In a press release, the Postal Service stated: “Pete Seeger (1919-2014) promoted the unifying power of voices joined in song to address social issues. His adaptation of “We Shall Overcome” became a civil rights anthem. Led by his ringing tenor voice and emblematic five-string banjo, his sing-along concerts mixed traditional songs and Seeger originals like “If I Had a Hammer” and “Turn! Turn! Turn!” During his long career, the charismatic and idealistic performer became a folk hero to generations.”

Born in New York City on May 3, 1919, Seeger came from a musical background; his father Charles Seeger was a musicologist and his stepmother was an avant-garde composer. After dropping out of Harvard in 1938, Seeger pursued folk music and met key figures in the genre such as Alan Lomax, Woody Guthrie and Lead Belly. “The words that came out of his mouth and the music he made all flowed together with the life that he had led,” Seeger told NPR's Fresh Air in 1985 about Guthrie, “and I was greatly attracted to it and kind of tagged along after him for several months. Woody showed me how to hitchhike and how to ride freight trains, how to sing in saloons."

In 1948, Seeger founded the folk group the Weavers with Ronnie Gilbert, Lee Hays and Fred Hellerman. The Weavers achieved fame with hit songs such as “On Top of Old Smokey” and “Good Night, Irene,” but the group disbanded in 1952 after they were blacklisted amid the anti-Communist backlash (The Weavers’ reunion in 1980 was documented in the film Wasn’t That a Time, released two years later).

Seeger wrote such famous songs as “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” “If I Had a Hammer” and “Turn! Turn! Turn!,” the latter which became a massive hit for the rock group the Byrds in 1965. His rendition of “We Shall Overcome” became the anthem of the Civil Rights Movement during the 1960s. Throughout his life, he stood behind progressive causes from labor rights to the environment.

The singer has been regarded as an influence on such artists as Bob Dylan, Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello, and Bruce Springsteen, who recorded the 2006 album We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions that consisted of songs popularized by Seeger.

Among the awards and recognitions Seeger received include the Kennedy Center Honors, the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the George Peabody medal.

Former President Barack Obama paid tribute to Seeger following the singer's death on January 27, 2014: "Once called 'America's tuning fork,' Pete Seeger believed deeply in the power of song. But more importantly, he believed in the power of community. To stand up for what's right, speak out against what's wrong, and move this country closer to the America he knew we could be."

In a 2010 interview with the Journal News, Seeger said: "In my own life, (music) has been able to leap barriers that words cannot leap. Quite often, people talk to each other and find themselves so furious, they can't stay in the same room with each other. But music can leap over these barriers of race or religion and politics."

In addition to Seeger, the other musicians who have been commemorated in the USPS’ Music Icons series include Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, Janis Joplin, Marvin Gaye, Lydia Mendoza, Sarah Vaughan, Elvis Presley, John Lennon and Jimi Hendrix.

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