Folk musician Guy Carawan died Saturday at the age of 87. The civil rights pioneer suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and died in his sleep at his home in Tennessee, WEWS reported. Carawan was the voice of the civil rights movement and is best known for the protest song “We Shall Overcome.” He did not write it, and did not claim to, but he helped popularize it during rallies in the 1960s.
His wife, Candie Carawan, told WEWS that he was at peace when he died. “Guy very peacefully slipped away,” she said. “When you know somebody is on their way, it was really the best way to go, and I was very grateful that was how it was.”
Carawan marched from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., where his anthem “We Shall Overcome” was sang.
He told NPR in 1999 that he learned the song from a friend in California. “He taught me this song, and he also had put some chords to its. He sang the guitar with it. So he had a guitar with harmony like, (singing) we shall overcome someday. Oh, deep in my heart I do believe, yes, that we shall overcome someday,” Carawan said.
Not only was it sang during the Civil Rights Movement in the '60s, but during apartheid-era South Africa, during international rallies that supported Tiananmen Square protesters and when the Berlin Wall was torn down, the New York Times noted.
Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero admired Carawan for his “great, generous spirit; his love of music and of his fellow men and women.”
“We will miss Guy Carawan,” the mayor said, according to WEWS. “His lifelong work for justice will be impossible to replace. My thoughts are with Candie, Evan and Heather and all of his family and friends.”
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