A Long Hard Road
The Weavers formed in 1948 in Greenwich Village, in New York City with members Ronnie Gilbert, Fred Hellerman, Pete Seeger and Lee Hays. Seeger came from “The Almanac Singers” a activist group opposing the U.S. entry into World War II – mainly because the group were fellow travelers with Stalin’s Soviet Union.
When Germany and Russian clashed – the Almanacs did a prompt about face and began singing pro war songs – hmmmm… They next became “The Weavers” – I was always a little surprised by their 1950’s commercial output such as “So Long Been Good To Know You” and “On Top of Old Smoky”, etc. But the group explained that these songs provided them with additional opportunities to appear and spread the Soviet gospel. Hays and Seeger had joined the American Communist Party. Seeger didn’t cooperate and had sanctions placed on him by the House Committee on Un American Activities not the Joe McCarthy committee which investigated federal employees.
All of the Weavers experienced denunciation and it cost them their recording contract with Decca Records.
Hays (who composed at times as Lee Hayes) had also co-composed the hit “If I Had a Hammer”. He was in a children’s songs group called “The Baby Sitters” along with actor and singer Alan Arkin in 1958. Fortunately for Hays he was able to survive lean times via royalties realized from “If I Had a Hammer” think Peter, Paul and Mary. Hays also composed the song “Joe Hill” which was performed and made famous by Joan Baez at the Woodstock Festival in 1969 and captured on the resulting long play.
Later, Peter Darling would take Seeger’s place in the group. He would go on to form “The Rooftop Singers”. He came from “The Tarriers” a group which included Alan Arkin. Arkin’s parents were both suspected of being Communists which cost his father David his job. He was vindicated only after his death.
Pete Seeger composed the Byrds’ hit “Turn, Turn, Turn”, and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” (Kingston Trio).
Ronnie Gilbert was born in September of 1926 in Brooklyn Ruth Alice Gilbert and passed away on June 6th of 2015 at the age of 88. She was an activist from the start being raised by Jewish parents from an Eastern Block country. She protested and remained active by performing for causes into her 80’s.
Fred Hellerman was born in May of 1927 in Brooklyn, New York. He was also very embroiled in leftist causes – and was the last Weaver to pass away on September 1st, 2016 at age 89.
Seeger was born in May of 1919 in Patterson, New York and died on January 27th, 2014. Hays was born in March of 1914 in Little Rock, Arkansas and died on August 26th, 1981 at age 67.