Josna Rege

242. Gratitude

In history, Inter/Transnational, Music, people, Politics, Stories, United States on January 28, 2014 at 4:56 am

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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.

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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:

18. Songlines

64. Concert Collage

69. Wonders in the Woods

124. A Meditation on Money

241. People, Not Personalities

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.

pete090504_250Here are Harry Belafonte and Arlo Guthrie honoring him back in 1996; and here he is, accepting that honor, for once at a loss for words.

Thank you, Pete Seeger: you are Forever Young.

Tell Me Another (Contents to Date)

Chronological Table of Contents

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  1. Thank you for “Gratitude”, remembering the great Pete Seeger! I am recalling a concert that I attended with my two sisters at Carnegie Hall in December of 1966. It was the only time I attended a Pete Seeger concert. I had lost our tickets when I left my wallet in the taxi; but, fortunately I remembered the seat numbers and we were let into the concert when the seats were found to be empty.

    • Ah, Anna, what a terrific memory to have and to share with your sisters! Amazing that you remembered your ticket numbers; and thank goodness they let you in. Sharing our memories of Pete Seeger helps to keep his music and his vision alive.

  2. Thank you, Josna. I woke this morning to news of Pete’s death, and have been sad ever since. I cannot remember a time in my life when Pete Seeger wasn’t part of it. As a young person, I was very connected to the world of folk music, with Pete Seeger at the center of it. Until the end of high school, my cousin Judy and I performed folk music, including many of Pete’s songs. Through my life, he moved me with his music, his courage and his commitment. And I loved that his performing was never about him, but always about bringing all of us into the music. Even when he could no longer sing, we all sang with him.

    • Thank you for writing, Karen, even—especially—in your sadness. I didn’t know that you have sung and performed folk music. Yes, his performances were always about getting everyone to sing. His voice was more-or-less gone this past quarter-century, but as you point out, he didn’t let that stop him! A friend sent out an email on Tuesday saying that friends and welliwshers had been singing at his bedside for some days and that he would join in when he could. Now that he is no longer with us in person, we just have to keep on singing, hearing his voice call out the words of the next line just a split second beforehand.

  3. Kind of person whose presence and music has been embedded in my life. A great soul.

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