An American folk music legend gets his own postage stamp.
The United States Postal Service issued a Forever commemorative stamp Thursday in honor of the late folk singer and activist Pete Seeger, the latest addition to the agency’s Music Icons stamp series.
The Seeger stamp will be dedicated at a first-day issue ceremony Thursday evening at the Jane Pickens Theater in Newport, Rhode Island, the town where the famous Newport Folk Festival, co-founded by Seeger, is held each year. A concert will follow the ceremony.
The image of the stamp featuring the singer comes from a photo taken by his son, Dan Seeger, in the early 1960s.
In a press release, the Post declared“Pete Seeger (1919-2014) promoted the unifying power of voices united in song to address social issues. His adaptation of “We Shall Overcome” became a civil rights anthem. Led by his resounding tenor voice and signature five-string banjo, his sung concerts blended traditional songs and Seeger originals like “If I Had a Hammer” and “Turn!” Round! Tour!” Over the course of his long career, the charismatic and idealistic performer has become a folk hero for generations.
Born in New York on May 3, 1919, Seeger came from a musical background; her father Charles Seeger was a musicologist and her stepmother was an avant-garde composer. After dropping out of Harvard in 1938, Seeger pursued folk music and met personalities of the genre like Alan Lomax, Woody Guthrie and Lead Belly. “The words that came out of his mouth and the music he made flowed together with the life he had led”, Seeger Told NPR Fresh air in 1985 about Guthrie, “and I was very drawn to it and kind of followed him for several months. Woody showed me how to hitchhike and how to get on freight trains , how to sing in saloons.”
In 1948, Seeger founded the folk group The Weavers with Ronnie Gilbert, Lee Hays and Fred Hellerman. The Weavers rose to fame with hit songs such as “On Top of Old Smokey” and “Good Night, Irene”, but the group disbanded in 1952 after being blacklisted amid backlash against Communist (The Weavers’ meeting in 1980 was documented in the film Wasn’t it a moment, published two years later).
Seeger wrote famous songs such as “Where Have All the Flowers Gone”, “If I Had a Hammer” and “Turn! Tour! Turn!”, the latter of which became a huge hit for rock band The Byrds in 1965. His rendition of “We Shall Overcome” became the anthem of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Throughout his life, he championed progressive causes from labor rights to the environment.
The singer was considered a radiation on artists such as Bob Dylan, Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morelloand Bruce Springsteen, who recorded the 2006 album We will overcome: the Seeger sessions composed of songs popularized by Seeger.
From awards and recognitions Seeger has received Kennedy Center Honors, the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the George Peabody Medal.
Former President Barack Obama paid tribute to Seeger after the singer’s death on January 27, 2014: “Once called ‘America’s tuning fork,’ Pete Seeger believed deeply in the power of song. But more importantly, he believed in the power of community. To stand up for what is just speak out against what’s wrong, and bring this country closer to the America it knew we could be.”
In a 2010 interview with the Journal NewsSeeger said: “In my own life, (music) has been able to break through barriers that words can’t. Quite often people talk to each other and find themselves so mad that they can’t stay in the same play with each other. But music can cross those barriers of race or religion and politics.”
In addition to Seeger, other musicians who have been commemorated in the USPS Music Icons series include Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, Janis Joplin, Marvin Gaye, Lydia Mendoza, Sarah Vaughan, Elvis Presley, John Lennon, and Jimi Hendrix.