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Last modified 6/18/17

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If I Had A Hammer--Pete Seeger / Lee Hays

If I Had a Hammer (The Hammer Song) was written by singer-songwriters Pete Seeger and Lee Hays in 1949 and first recorded by The Weavers, a folk music quartet composed of Seeger, Hays, Ronnie Gilbert and Fred Hellerman. It was a number 10 hit for Peter, Paul, and Mary in 1962 and then went to number three a year later when recorded by Trini Lopez.

Pete Seeger and Lee Hays were founding members of People's Songs, a music publishing company that supported various left wing causes - including “hammer and sickle” Communism. At its first board of directors meeting, Seeger and Hays entertained themselves by jotting down lyrics that became If I Had A Hammer.

In 1952, fellow activist Libby Frank insisted on singing the line "my brothers and my sisters" rather than the phrase "all of my brothers", Seeger and Hays had originally written.  Hays objected  to the change at first but finally agreed.

As a result of his activism, Seeger,became an obvious target for the House Un-American Activities Committee, a congressional committee created for and committed to rooting out domestic communism.  He was called to testify before the committee on August 18, 1955, Chief Counsel Frank Tavenner asked if Seeger had entertained at communist functions.  The songwriter then replied,..“I am proud that I have sung for Americans of every political persuasion.  I have never refused to sing for anybody because I disagreed with their political opinion and I am proud of the fact that my songs seem to cut across and find perhaps a unifying thing...basic humanity”.

Seeger was then cited for contempt and sentenced to a year in prison.  He never served the time as the verdict was reversed in 1962., but a result, Seeger was blacklisted by the major television networks, which kept him off the air for years to come.

In 1962, the song was re-arranged by Peter, Paul & Mary and their version was their first big hit single. It was released on their debut, self-titled album .and went to #10 in October of that year.  The trio would soon become one of the best-known folk music acts of the era.

Later, Peter Yarrow of the group stated that, "The civil rights movement embraced If I Had A Hammer as a kind of an anthem, but that song was also sung very much as part of grass roots movements like the peace movement and the environmental movement.  It is a song of empowerment, and songs that empower with the sense of elasticity so they can relate to the world as it evolves also will remain with us."

If I Had a Hammer has been covered by some of the most revered and diverse artists in the music industry, among them Johnny Cash, Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, Luther Vandross, Arlo Guthrie, John Melancamp, Percy Faith, The Seekers, Nancy Griffith, Bobby Rydell, The Limeliters, and Doc Severinsen.  Even actors Debbie Reynolds and Leonard Nimoy recorded the song.


If I Had A Hammer

4Hammer (1).mp3