Anyone who's ever sung along with Pete Seeger -- as did an appreciative crowd at the Kennedy Center Dec. 4 where he was one of five performing artists being honored -- has a favorite story about the folk singer. Mine is about the concert he gave at Moscow University in 1965, an event covered by a New York Times reporter who filed a story headlined "Seeger Sings Anti-American Song in Moscow."

The exercise in alleged treason was "King Henry," eight verses of lyrics that Seeger wrote and attached to the melody of a traditional Scottish song, "I Once Loved a Lass." It was an anti-war song, about a U.S. soldier sent to Vietnam in 1964 and "who came home in a casket" in 1965.

Seeger sang it as an afterthought, during the Q-and-A period in response to a question about what music was being played on U.S. campuses. In his 1993 book, "Where Have All the Flowers Gone: A Singer's Stories, Songs, Seeds, Robberies," Seeger recalls the Moscow episode: The reporter "ignored all the positive songs (about labor, the civil rights movement) and mentioned only this one... . I called up the editor of the Times, and quoted the words of the song. He agreed they were not 'anti-American,' and said the headline had been changed in later editions. But the damage had been done."

Minor damage, it can now be said. At 75, Seeger has sung, written, picked, recorded, hootenannied, marched and bubbled with ideas in enough places -- from Carnegie Hall to the coal field union hall -- to establish himself as all but a mythic figure in American music. He has been at it since the mid-1920s, when, as the son of professional musicians who taught at Juilliard, he was a 5-year-old plunking and banging on the autoharp, pennywhistle, marimba, piano, pump organ and push-pull accordion.

Around 1940, he met Woody Guthrie, a rambler, songwriter and populist who told Seeger he should learn about life by hitchhiking and riding freights, and stopping at the byways to sing about what he had heard and felt.

The results would come in such Seeger songs as "Turn, Turn, Turn," "If I Had a Hammer," "Guantanamera," "Waste Deep in the Big Muddy," "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" and "Deliver the Goods." Those and others are in 86 albums, a body of work throbbing as a living definition of diversity: songs from East Africa, Appalachia, Wales ("Bells of Rhymney"), Seeger's own Hudson River Valley, prisons, migrant worker camps, Cuban cane fields, tribal councils. "Think globally, sing locally," he says.

Seeger has been a lifelong communist -- the real kind, as in community, common unity -- a believer in the peaceful sharing of wealth as the first condition of justice. "I became a communist at age 7," he wrote, "when I read about American Indians. No rich, no poor. Life and death decisions made around a council fire. I've been fascinated to visit communes of one sort or another around the world to see how they attempt to solve problems. Including a kibbutz in Israel, a Christian commune in New York state."

Much of Seeger's philosophy has been found in the pages of "Sing Out!," the folk song magazine he co-founded in 1950. His regular column all these years -- "Appleseeds" -- is a peppery mix of stories, songwriting instruction and, for sure, folk wisdom. The magazine, a quarterly published at 125 E. Third St., Bethlehem, Pa. 18015, is thick with articles, reviews, profiles and commentary suggesting -- no, stoutly proving -- that folk music is ably holding its own against the current competition of rap and the ear-assaulting racket of grunge rock. Even MTV is coming around. Its Sunday night show "Unplugged" is devoted to non-electric acoustic music, of a kind that has a tradition a bit longer than 10 minutes on the charts.

At the Kennedy Center awards -- to be televised Dec. 28 -- the audience that sang some of Seeger's songs fulfilled the dream he has carried everywhere: "What I would most like to do as a musician {is} put songs on people's lips instead of just in their ear... . I wish I could live long enough to see people singing again, either solo or in groups. For recreation. For reverence. For learning and laughter. For struggle. For hope, for understanding... . If this world survives, I believe that modern industrialized people will learn to sing again."

How to learn? Get a banjo, a "Sing Out!" songbook, listen to the folk, clear the throat and start. For Pete's sake.