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Pete Seeger and People’s Songs


(Roger Johnson and Pete Seeger leading Freedom School students singing “We Shall Overcome” at Palmer’s Crossing Community Center, Freedom Summer, 1964)

Born in 1919, Pete Seeger is known as the ‘Dean of 20th Century Folk Singers’. He grew up in a a musical family where his father, Charles Seeger, was a eminent musicologist and his mother, Constance Seeger, was a concert violinist. While Pete Seeger and recorded many folk songs and performed in many concerts, he was also active in the social discrepancies of the American society. In 1945, he became the national director of People’s Songs, which would later be known as People’s Artists. The organization’s slogan was “Songs of Labor and the American People”.

People’s Songs
Founded on December 31, 1945 by several artists including Pete Seeger and Lee Hays, this organization’s purpose was to “create, promote and distribute songs of labor and the American people.” People’s Songs was a loose American version of Great Britain’s Workers Music Association, which included a weekly newsletter that contained descriptions of songs, announcements of dances and hootenannies, and articles about progressive entertainers. The song, ‘We Will Overcome’, was published in 1947 where it became the key anthem of the Civil Rights Movement. It’s title was changed to ‘We Shall Overcome’.

Food for thought: The song, ‘We Shall Overcome’, became an inspiration to many in the Civil Rights Movement. What is the modern day equivalent? If you can’t think of one, what song has personally inspired you?

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