For Pete’s Sake

Folk icon, Pete Seeger, has received the stamp of approval from the United States Postal Service (USPS) in the form of a new postage stamp released on July 21.

The tenth stamp in the USPS’s Music Icons series features the remarkable champion of folk and traditional music who believed in its power to inspire social and environmental activism. Artists depicted in previous stamps in the series issued by the USPS include Marvin Gaye and John Lennon.

Born into a musical family in New York in 1919, Seeger travelled throughout America during the Great Depression collecting songs. On his travels, he met Woody Guthrie who became a close friend. In the 1940s the two became leading members of The Almanac Singers – who had a particular interest in labour songs. During this period he also performed as a solo artist on radio and in live events promoted by Alan Lomax.

A founder member of The Weavers in 1948, the band’s repertoire of folk and blues classics – included Huddie ‘Leadbelly’ Ledbetter’s Goodnight, Irene,  which, according to Billboard, was the No. 1 record of 1950. Leadbelly had been discovered by Alan Lomax’s father, John.

While Seeger was blacklisted during the MacCarthyite era during the 1950s, his career recovered in the 1960s as a result of the folk revival and the growing protest movement. His repertoire typically included songs about workers’ rights, environmental causes, and social justice.

Seeger’s promotion of the hymn, We Shall Overcome, led it becoming a civil rights anthem in the United States and many other parts of the world. Other popular songs popularised by Seeger include Where Have All the Flowers Gone?, Turn Turn Turn! and If I Had a Hammer. 

Winner of four Grammy Awards, Seeger was inducted into both the Songwriters and Rock and Roll Halls of Fame, and was awarded the National Medal of the Arts in the US. He also collaborated with Tommy Sands on a number of song projects. A lifelong activist, he marched through New York, aged 92, in support of an Occupy Movement protest in 2011.

Pete’s final appearance at New York’s Carnegie Hall with Arlo Guthrie and the Guthrie family took place in November, 2013. He died in New York City on January 27, 2014, at the age of 94.

A special ceremony to mark the release of the stamp took place at the Newport Folk Festival, where Seeger was a frequent performer and a long-time board member – in which capacity, he was responsible for inviting the young Bob Dylan to play.

The artwork for the stamp features a colour-tinted black-and-white photograph of Seeger singing and playing his banjo in the early 1960s, by Dan Seeger, the performer’s son.

Digital artist Kristen Monthei retouched and colorised the image, while art director, Antonio Alcalá executed the design.

As a ‘Forever’ stamp, it will always be equal in value to the current first class mail price. The stamp is on sale in post offices and online in the United States.

The USPS, together with the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee (CSAC), approve about 20 new designs for  commemorative postage stamps each year.

The Postmaster General appoints up to 15 members of the CSAC, who serve on a voluntary basis. Each year, they consider all the submissions – routinely tens of thousands – from the general public for potential stamp designs.

Somewhat ironically the current Postmaster General is Trump-appointee Louis DeJoy.

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