Pete Seeger, the American folk singer who was instrumental in popularising the protest anthem 'We Shall Overcome', died on January 27. He was 94. 'We Shall Overcome' became the signature tune of the African-American Civil Rights movement. It was widely adopted by Indian political activists and made its way into several Indian films, including 'My Name Is Khan', pictured above.
The song has a life in several Indian languages. In Bengali, 'Amar Karbo Joy' was recorded both by Hemanga Biswas and Bhupen Hazarika. During the Bangladesh war in 1971, the Calcutta Youth Orchestra recorded a version titled 'Ek Din Surjyer Bhor' (One Day the Sun Will Rise).
In Kerala, the Students Federation of India made it their struggle song, belting out 'Nammal Vijayikkum'. The Hindi version, translated by Girija Kumar Mathur, has been sung by generations of schoolchildren as 'Hum Honge Kamayab'.
'We Shall Overcome' was a gospel song that gained a wider audience in 1948 after it appeared in issue of 'People's Songs Bulletin', published by an organisation headed by Seeger. He made it his signature tune, recording it and performing it frequently.
Seeger took his role as a protest singer very seriously. Over his seven-decade-long career, he fought for the rights of African-Americans, opposed many American wars, was a keen environmentalist and in 2011, aged 92, he marched in support of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
He visited India twice. In 1963, he performed this version of 'Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram', which had been taught to him by an Indian student at MIT a decade before. His second trip was in 1996.