The year is young yet, but 2014 may have already seen its most relevant music-related death. Folk music pioneer Pete Seeger passed away Monday evening at the age of 94. According to his family, Seeger passed away naturally in his sleep. He had spent nearly a week at New York's Presbyterian Hospital, but he hadn't been suffering from any other ailments.
Seeger is included among other iconic names such as Woody Guthrie and Lee Hays as one of the most important names in folk music, and the concept of protest music in general. Seeger rose to prominence as a member of the seminal collectives The Almanac Singers and The Weavers, alongside Guthrie. He may be best known for popularizing "We Shall Overcome" (by changing "will" to "shall"), but he was responsible for dozens of his own original hits, including "If I Had A Hammer," "Where Have All The Flowers Gone?," and "Turn, Turn, Turn."
Seeger and his cohorts rubbed listeners both ways. The pro-union and anti-war ballads of The Almanac Singers set the standard for political commentary in American music. However, positions such as an isolationist standing during World War II, and the support of the Soviet Union during the Cold War made Seeger a lightning rod for controversy. Seeger largely identified as a communist for his entire life, although he later acknowledged his error in supporting Joseph Stalin's reign.
Seeger also had a significant influence on the instrumental element of folk. His playing and writing on the banjo popularized the instrument to new generations of players, and he also helped popularize the 12-string guitar.
Seeger remained as idealistic as ever in his later years. Having spent more than nine decades on Earth didn't stop him from partaking in either of his passions, music or politics. He marched as part of the Occupy Wall Street Movement during 2011, and he performed at the 2013 Farm Aid Concert in 2013.