Pete Seeger, singer and musician died on January 27, 2014. His unique style and passion for music brought people together locally and globally.
His songs with words such as “We shall overcome” or “Where have all the flowers gone”, stirred millions to march and protest against wars, inequality and injustice.
Recently, I sat and listened to a few of Seeger’s songs, such as – “If I had a hammer”. The words of the song made me smile. In my mind I replayed my youth, a time when I was full of hope and wonder.
“If I had a hammer
I would hammer in the morning
I would hammer in the evening
All over this land
I would hammer out danger
I would hammer out warning
I would hammer out the love
Between my brothers and my sisters
All over this land”
What a simple concept, love between people, in the same worldwide family.
I remember reading that he had been blacklisted in the 1950’s and his music was not played on the radio and television for about 17 years. Wikipedia says:
“Seeger was one of the folksingers most responsible for popularizing the spiritual “We Shall Overcome” (also recorded by Joan Baez and many other singer-activists) that became the acknowledged anthem of the 1960s American Civil Rights Movement, soon after folk singer and activist Guy Carawan introduced it at the founding meeting of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1960”.
Despite being blacklisted and silence from the media, he continued to use music and singing as a way of creating change – you could say, small steps that would make a better world.
Not able to perform to large audiences, he sang in schools and taught children the magic of playing instruments and singing songs together. He thus spawned a generation that knew the songs and sang the songs. These peaceful messages of hope had a positive effect on many young minds, and some turned these messages into local action in communities across the globe.
Seeger perform across the USA until he was 94. For the last 20 years or so he regularly performed with his grandson Tao Rodriquez Seeger. When you watch them on YouTube, you can see the bond they shared – both in music, and their desire for people to come together to help one another. Seeger said in an interview, in 1998, to the National Press Club, that he was busier than he had even been, supporting all sorts of local causes, such as cleaning up the Hudson River. He said, “I tell people who say there is no hope, did you expect the Berlin Wall to come down so peacefully or did you expect Mandela to be President of South Africa? Well, if you could not predict that, then don’t be so confident that there is no hope. There are reserves of genius showing up, all through this world”.
He said, that on his grandson’s banjo are the words, “There is no hope, but I may be wrong”.
When I shared this story, with my husband, Jim, we talked about another closer to home activist, his father – Charlie Hall, a lifelong Communist. Jim often jokes, that the only time he ever saw his father was on peace marches. Charlie’s funeral, in 2009, was well attended. We reflected at the time that the whole Communist party of Great Britain must have turned out for this comrade, all 100 of them. Representatives from the ANC, also came along and shared stories of progress and change. Jim’s dad had worked in South Africa after Mandela was released. He worked in the libraries, bringing books and education.
As we gathered around the grave, a leader from the local Communist party said kind words about Charlie Hall. He invited everyone to the next meeting of the party. There was a captive audience of mourners, so, the opportunity was not missed to share the current campaign. As kind words were said about Charlie’s activism, a quiet voice, said “but he was not a family man”. Charlie’s daughter wanted a Dad, not an activist.
Pete Seeger, over his long life, seemed to get the balance right.
This led me to thinking about my life.
My childhood was one of indoctrination by Jehovah’s Witnesses. My future could have been one of expecting the end of the world to arrive. It could have been that of an activist preacher, coming to your door, disturbing your life on a Saturday morning. I chose a different activism. My life has been rich and fulfilling, full of travel, a rewarding career, good friends and sweet memories. did not expect that, because as a child growing up as a Jehovah’s Witness, you are given particular messages. You are told over and over again, that the world is a bad and unsafe place. You are told that the world is full of people who should not and cannot be trusted; people who are not Jehovah’s Witnesses deserve to die. It’s strange to think children are still being taught this by Jehovah’s Witness parents. I left those beliefs of no hope a long time ago.
I prefer to think like Pete, “There are reserves of genius showing up, all through this world”.
As I get older, I reflect more and worry less.
Right till the end of his rich life, Pete Seeger inspired, campaigned and performed. Here, below, is a Youtube video where Pete narrates a Bob Dylan song for Amnesty International. You can see the warm human being who still has work to do to make this world a better place for his grandchildren. He sings with a group of young children, a song about being – “Forever Young”. Not everlasting life? No, in many ways better than that, a rewarding, honest, caring, love filled life. What a great legacy he left for this world.
Here are a few of my favourite memories of Pete Seeger.
Pete Seeger In His Own Words: Environment, Civil Rights, Songs, Communism, Science, 1960s (1998)
Where Have All The Flowers Gone – Pete sings with his grandson Tao Rodriquez Seeger
Pete Seeger sings “Forever Young”