Pete Seeger, Unsuccessful Hermit

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Pete Seeger last summer at an annual swim to raise money for a floating pool in the Hudson River. (Todd McDonough/flickr)

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. 


Matthew Schuerman


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Comments [9]

Thomas Marzahl from Berlin, Germany

About a decade ago I had the honor and privilege of sharing an afternoon with Pete and Toshi in their Beacon home, while on a reporting trip. Probably the most cherished interview I have ever done... because it never seemed like an interview, more like a conversation with an old friend. It started with Pete picking me up with his pickup truck at the train station... which astounds me to this day.

Thank you, Karen, for a heartfelt remembrance of your neighbor Pete Seeger, mensch extraordinaire.

Feb. 01 2014 06:59 PM
Tom Vitale from Glen Head, NY


Jan. 30 2014 05:41 PM
Deborah Pierce

We have been lifelong fans of Pete. The last time we saw him was at his 90th birthday party at Madison Square Garden. My husband was entering the last stages of Parkinson's Disease. It was a night to remember. My daughter came to pick us up after the concert. She remembers finding us on 7th Ave. singing at the top of our lungs. He enriched our lives.

Jan. 30 2014 08:27 AM
Diane B. Gareen from New York City

Summer 1957
Me:camp physician at an agency children's camp in Harriman State Park; also
for several years already an ardent admirer of Pete Seeger-as a folk
singer and musicologist; as an activist dedicated to improving the
world; as a person fully committed to living true to his principles
I was, therefore, thrilled to be personally introduced to him; much to
my amazement and (respectful amusement),i found him to be quite shy on a one-to-one
basis-quite a contrast to his extraordinary rapport with audiences when
performing-for small audiences or in venues such as (filled to capacity)
Carnegie Hall. we are also so lucky to have had him in our lives...

Jan. 29 2014 07:43 PM
Maude Boylan from New York

A warm and loving tribute to Pete Seeger ~ thanks for sharing your personal memories of Pete with us. Maintaining your shared country road was a real act of love and friendship.

Jan. 29 2014 01:42 PM
Jane B from Liberty Lake WA

This is the best tribute and memory of Pete Seeger I've heard. Thank you for sharing this with us.

Jan. 29 2014 11:17 AM
Lu from Brooklyn

Beautiful, Karen.

Jan. 29 2014 09:11 AM
Mike Gera from Forest Hills, NY

Thank you for such a nice recollection. Weren't we all so lucky to have Pete in our lives for such a long time?

Jan. 29 2014 08:20 AM
Rob Benjamin from New Jersey

This was the nicest tribute I have heard to Pete Seeger. We all knew him as an icon, but you had the privilege to know him as a good neighbor. I envy you.

Jan. 29 2014 07:54 AM

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