Pete Seeger collected almost every laurel a musician could hope for: a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, induction into the Rock and Rock Hall of Fame, the National Medal of Arts, a Kennedy Center Honor — not to mention the love and respect of nearly everyone who came into contact with him and his work.
But the 94-year-old folk singer and activist did not always seek a life in the public eye.
"I wanted to be a hermit," he said in an interview once, recalling his early days. "I felt it was the only way to be honest in this world of hypocrisy. Some other teenagers said, 'That’s your idea of morality. You're going to be nice and pure yourself and let the rest of the world go to hell.' And I decided they were right, and started getting involved."
He did manage to carve out a small portion of peace and quiet near Beacon, about an hour north of New York City. In the late 1940s he built a cabin in the woods overlooking the Hudson River there where he raised his three children, Danny, Tinya and Mika, with his wife Toshi.
When his work took him on the road in the 1960s, Toshi wanted to have a neighbor. A house was built nearby. Some 30 years later, I had the good fortune to live in that house. I got to hear many of Pete's stories first hand and was inspired by this tireless cultural worker. He was an artist who felt that creating work that reflected his greatness was not his highest purpose. He wanted to create change with his music and his ideas. The sloop Clearwater, the musical arrangement of "We Shall Overcome" that he introduced to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and his generosity as a teacher of songs to generations of children are just a few of the many reasons that he will be remembered.
Take a listen to hear more from Pete Seeger ... and what it was like to maintain a dirt road with him.