His group The Weavers had been a success, with records like "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine" (1951), but getting called a communist — and actually being one — wrecked the commercial path forward.
Mr. Seeger was indicted in 1957 on 10 counts of contempt of Congress. He was convicted in 1961 and sentenced to a year in prison, but the next year an appeals court dismissed the indictment as faulty. After the indictment, Mr. Seeger’s concerts were often picketed by the John Birch Society and other rightist groups. “All those protests did was sell tickets and get me free publicity,” he later said. “The more they protested, the bigger the audiences became.”
By then, the folk revival was prospering. In 1959, Mr. Seeger was among the founders of the Newport Folk Festival. The Kingston Trio’s version of Mr. Seeger’s “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” reached the Top 40 in 1962, soon followed by Peter, Paul and Mary’s version of “If I Had a Hammer,” which rose to the Top 10.Much more in the long NYT article at the link, including his education at Harvard; his encounter with the folklorist Alan Lomax, and, through Lomax, Lead Belly; his alliance with Woody Guthrie, traveling around playing for migrant workers in 1940; his WWII-era group the Almanac Singers, who played anti-war and then antifascist songs; campaigning for presidential candidate Henry Wallace in 1948; his central place in the great folk music revival circa 1960; playing "We Shall Overcome" at Civil Rights Movement rallies; and getting betrayed by Bob Dylan.
Imagine experiencing nearly a century of American history from such a central place. What a lucky man. Pete Seeger lived to be 94.