The sad news of Pete Seeger’s death came in just as I was drifting off to sleep and I could not just let it pass. So grateful for the life of this tireless champion of peace, justice, love, and the power of song. Here’s Pete back in 1956, teaching a crowd to sing his If I Had a Hammer in his inimitable way.
It’s the hammer of justice
It’s the bell of freedom
It’s the song about love between my brothers and my sisters
All over this land.
Here he is in 2009, teaching the audience some of the more subversive verses to Woody Guthrie’s This Land is Your Land, the song that would be the national anthem, if I had my druthers.
Looking back at my own life, Pete Seeger’s music runs through it like a rainbow thread, as I grew up to his songs long before I had ever heard his name. It was thanks to Pete Seeger that I learned most of my first American folk songs, thanks to Pete Seeger that I am inspired to join with others in song when everything looks bleak and hopeless, thanks in no small part to Pete Seeger that folk music has been alive and well this past half-century and more. Here he is leading the audience in This Little Light of Mine at the 50th anniversary of the Newport Folk Festival, which he helped to found. He learned, sang, and championed the songs of Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, and so many more, from all over the world.
Looking back at Tell Me Another, I find his name invoked again and again, from some of the very earliest stories to the most recent one:
64. Concert Collage
I had the good fortune to see him twice in concert. The first time was back in 1983, just as we were deciding to move to Winchendon, at an outdoor benefit concert he gave in neighboring Athol, Massachusetts, for workers who had been locked out of their factory. The second time was some fifteen years later, with Nikhil as a teenager, at the grand old Academy of Music in Northampton, Massachusetts. He was old now, singing with his grandson, returning to his musical roots. I think he sang Guantanamera, my father-in-law Ted’s favorite song, and—secular to the core though he was—his own version of Old Hundredth. But he was to keep on singing and keep on making history for another 15 years. Here he is not six months ago, in conversation with Amy Goodman after his 94th birthday and the death of his wife Toshi.
Thank you, Pete Seeger: you are Forever Young.