If I were sure that more than 10 percent of National Review readers were fully aware of the range of contributions to music by Pete Seeger — his reputation as a musician, composer, and singer — I could comfortably believe that the brief indictment of his political activism in The Week (February 24), delineating his bias for Communism, would be viewed as a study in tragic contrasts. But I doubt that recognition of the complete Seeger is widespread. Like hundreds of other devotees of traditional and folk music, I listened to Seeger sing over the years, admiring his ability to enlist audience participation, such as in “Wimoweh.”
If his calling was activism, he did a lousy job. His preaching never made it to me, only his songs. I accept as true everything NR wrote about his questionable loyalties. As an American, I find his beliefs and his expression of those beliefs as reported by NR to be objectionable; his achievements as an entertainer do not excuse them. However, NR lost the opportunity to mention his contributions and the poignancy of a generation watching an enviable talent being tainted by an uninformed and wasteful obsession. Seeger gave us “Turn, Turn, Turn” and wrote the quintessential book on playing the five-string banjo, undoubtedly resulting in thousands of new banjo pluckers — and America is better for that. NR is no doubt aware of that side of Seeger, but he is labeled as a “force for bad.” Don’t overlook the gold in the rush to discard the dross. The write-up came across as merely a footnote to the fortunate passing of a subversive activist who also happened to sing.