Pete Seeger, the son of the musicologist, Charles Seeger, was born in New York on 3rd May, 1919. He studied sociology at Harvard University and afterwards travelled the American South collecting and recording traditional songs.
A member of the Communist Party, Seeger formed the Almanac Singers in 1940 and their repertoire of radical songs heralded the start of the protest movement. After war service, Seeger became director of People's Songs, a organization devoted to publishing radical musical material.
Seeger was supporter of Henry Wallace and the Progressive Party candidate in the presidential election of 1948. In that year he also formed the Weavers and after signing a recording deal with Decca, had a number of hit songs including Goodnight Irene, Wimoweh, Kisses Sweeter than Wine and So Long It's Been Good to Know You.
Seeger's music career was severely damaged when J. Edgar Hoover leaked his FBI file to Frederick Woltman, of the New York World Telegram. He published an article revealing that the Weavers were the first musicians in American history to be investigated for sedition.
Seeger's name also appearedin Red Channels. This pamphlet, distributed to organizations involved in employing people in the entertainment industry, listed 150 people who had been involved in promoting left-wing causes. Although the Weavers had sold over four million records, radio stations now stopped playing their music. They were also banned from appearing on national television.
On 6th February, 1952, Harvey Matusow testified in front of the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) that Seeger was a member of the Communist Party. It was another three years before Seeger was called before the HUAC. Whereas he was willing to talk about his own political beliefs, Seeger refused to name other members of the various left-wing groups that he had belonged to over the years.
As a result of his attitude, on 26th July, 1956, the House of Representatives voted 373 to 9 to cite Seeger, Arthur Miller, and six others for contempt. However, Seeger did not come to trial until March, 1961. He was found guilty and sentenced to 12 months in prison. After worldwide protests, the Court of Appeals ruled that Seeger's indictment was faulty and dismissed the case.
Although freed from prison, the blacklisting of Seeger continued until the late sixties. Seeger's songs written during this period often reflected his left-wing views and included We Shall Overcome, Where Have All the Flowers Gone, If I Had a Hammer, Turn, Turn, Turn, The Bells of Rhymney and Guantanamera.