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Pete Seeger is an American singer, songwriter, activist, environmentalist and peace advocate, and now also the winner of Freemuse's 2009 award for his commitment to musicians' freedom of expression.

More than 50 years ago, the left-wing folk-singer Seeger was summoned to give evidence about his political leanings and contacts to the House Un-American Activities Committee. He refused to testify, which led to an indictment for contempt, a prison sentence and a travel ban. Seeger was unable to perform in many halls, was excluded from college campuses and banned from the airwaves.

But he kept writing and singing, with Woody Guthrie, the Weavers, Bob Dylan and, most recently, with Bruce Springsteen - they performed "This Land is Your Land" together at President Obama's pre-inauguration concert.

Freemuse, a free expression organisation dedicated to musicians, said of Seeger, "His voice has been one which has constantly been on the side of the oppressed and which has refused to remain silent in even the darkest hours. He remains an inspiration to those musicians who seek to use their work for the greater benefit of mankind."

Although Seeger does not believe in awards, he accepted the Freemuse one. In a statement Pete Seeger quoted an old Arab proverb: "When the king puts a poet on his payroll, he cuts off the tongue of the poet!"

He added, "But throughout history, songwriters have found ways to get around this problem by putting together songs that people like to sing and teach to their friends."

His grandson and fellow musician Tao Rodriguez-Seeger accepted the award on his behalf on 3 March at Stockholm's Concert Hall, marking Music Freedom Day.

The event included performances and talks by Chiwoniso from Zimbabwe, Ferhat Tunc from Turkey, and Mahsa Vahdat from Iran - artists who have experienced censorship and repression in their home countries.

For more on the award and Music Freedom Day, see Freemuse:

(Photo of Pete Seeger, courtesy of Freemuse)

(4 March 2009)

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