Issue 32: What’s New

Struggle is Long, but Hope is Longer

Brothers, Sisters, All

We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder

Pete Seeger (1919 – 2014)

Pete Seeger2

I don’t usually publish an issue with just one posting but Pete Seeger died last night and I can’t get his memory off my mind.  So I’m moved to share my memories and thoughts on how he impacted my life and how, on a much greater stage, he influenced our musical culture, all aspects of the progressive movement, and indeed our national and international political history.  Hopefully, it will inspire and stimulate some of you to write in and share your memories and thoughts.

For three summers when I was 10, 11, and 14 years old I went to University Settlement Camp in upstate Beacon, NY. It was the extension of the University Settlement House on the Lower East Side whose mission and programs were designed to try to counteract poverty and racism inherent in inner city communities. Most of the kids were from the city but some liberal, middle class white parents like mine thought it was important to provide their children with an integrated setting at a camp with progressive values.

OK, this video of Pete and a group of kids (possibly at summer camp) doing a cover of Dylan’s classic Forever Young has a pinch too much syrup but is very reminiscent of the feelings I experienced when I sang with Pete at that age. And of course, even at 94, Pete managed to stay forever young.

Those were some of the most memorable summers of my life which truly shaped and formed my views on the world and high on the highlight list were the annual visits by Pete to our nightly after dinner camp-wide folk singalongs. Pete lived just a few miles away, up the hill towards Mt. Beacon which towered over the camp. Since I was raised on folk, Pete was already a “rock star” for me and getting to see him in such an informal and close setting, and sing along while he (as Arlo Guthrie later joked) sang the front part, felt really special and was something I’ll never forget. We sang all his classics including Michael Row your Boat Ashore, Jacob’s Ladder, Where Have all the Flowers Gone, the Banks Were Made of Marble, Wimoweh, and of course We Shall Overcome to name a few.

Pete Seeger1I was fortunate enough to see Pete perform many more times throughout my life. Several of the most memorable were the annual Carnegie Hall concerts with Arlo Guthrie. Considering his relationship with Woody, not surprisingly Pete and Arlo had a very special relationship both personally and musically which was completely transparent. Attending his 90th birthday tribute concert at Madison Square Garden was a special treat as we got to see how far and wide his musical roots have spread (see review). Over the years, Pete planted many seeds and so many have borne fruit. Several years later he appeared at a 9-11 Memorial concert/benefit and we wound up meeting him briefly before the show began. We had volunteered to help the organizers and as it turned out Pete was not only appearing for free at the benefit but, at 92 was there early helping to schlep and set up the auditorium.

petes banjoAs I think of Pete and the incredible contributions he’s made in so many areas, I’m reminded of one of my favorite passages (and songs of course) in the Passover Haggadah known as Dayenu which loosely translated means “it would have been sufficient.” And it seems like an apt framework for talking about Pete and his life.

If Pete had merely sung with Woody Guthrie and helped make Woody’s music part of the American songbook, Dayenu

If Pete had himself, merely written some of the most meaningful American folk songs, Dayenu

If Pete had merely been a member of the Weavers, Dayenu

If Pete had merely taught us to appreciate other cultures and their musical contributions, from gospel and blues to Appalachian roots music, and around the world from Latin American to South African to Eastern European folk music, if it was the peoples’ music it was Pete’s music, Dayenu

If Pete had merely been a great performer, banjo and 12 string guitar player who could get an audience of 20 or 200,000 to sing along with him, Dayenu

If Pete had merely been an early and strong vocal supporter of environmental causes, if he had only helped breathe new life into the Hudson River through his Clearwater project, Dayenu

If Pete had merely been an early and constant voice for workers and for their labor movement struggles… for fair wages, decent working conditions, and benefits such as health care and retirement, Dayenu

If Pete had merely fought for the rights of the downtrodden of society, for the poor, for women, for civil rights for all minorities, for the LGBT community, Dayenu

If Pete had merely struggled against class oppression and fought for equality and justice for all, Dayenu

If Pete had merely supported the struggles of people all around the world and made his contribution by bringing these struggles into the limelight, Dayenu

If Pete had merely opposed nuclear proliferation and helped organize a worldwide movement for disarmament, Dayenu

If Pete had merely been a loud and soulful voice for ever lasting peace across the world, Dayenu

But Pete was all of these things and more.  He was one of my heroes and I’ll miss him.


Late City Edition Correction: An earlier edition of this blog stated that we met Pete and worked with him to set up the auditorium for an Occupy Wall St. benefit concert.  My wife gently reminded me that my recollection was a bit skewed and it was actually a 9-11 memorial concert.  This edition has been updated.



Hey Folks, Opinion8ed2 is fast approaching a milestone – 10,000 reader page views!!!  The count up clock is located in the right hand side bar and it updates anytime someone visits these here parts.  In order to celebrate this auspicious occasion I am offering a prize to the person who bags the exact 10,000 hit*.  Unfortunately I will be unable to set off any sirens or confetti if you win so you’ll need to keep an eye on the meter and if you hit the jackpot, take a screen shot (or digital photo with your camera) and send this proof to me electronically  

( along with (3) box tops from your favorite Opinion8ed issue to redeem your prize.  Good luck!

*Fine Print:  This offer is open to all residents of Planet Earth except the immediate families of all employees of Opinion8ed2


News Flash!!  As you an see from the screen shot evidence below (click on picture to enlarge and make it readable), we had a winner of the 10,000 page views contest:

Screen Shot 2014-01-30 at 12.35.22 PM

But, believe it or not, the winner was none other than my wife who neglected to read the fine print and, of course, is ineligible from the contest… You can’t make this stuff up!  I guess we’ll try again at 15,000 page views.

Published on January 29, 2014 at 12:43 am  Comments (7)  

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7 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. What an amazing tribute to Pete!!! Thank you for sharing your stories, Dayenu.

    Editor’s response: Thanks Jenn


  2. Very nicely done, Paul. Well said.
    I wasn’t as well-versed nor did I have the family affinity to the lefty movement at the time as many of the respondents to this article seemed to have, but I do remember seeing the Weavers, I think it was 1955 or so, when I was at a summer camp near Hancock, NY. They played at the Honesdale Fair in Honesdale, PA. I didn’t appreciate it then, but the memory is much richer now.

    Editor’s response: Thanks Jay…Pete and the Weavers enjoyed a good deal of popular and financial success in those days until his appearance before the House UnAmerican Activities Committee (HUAC) when McCarthy added their names to the blacklist.


  3. Some lovely stories, Paul. Pete was a hero of mine too, I wonder how many millions of us are saying that this week. I got to shake his hand once and tell him how proud I was to share a birthday with him. It was at the 2009 Clearwater Festival, when it rained all weekend. Although he must have been worried about all the issues that accompanied the weather hassle, he couldn’t have been more gracious. Vaya con Dios Pete.

    Editor’s response: Thanks Kay, many, many millions is my guess.


  4. Your dayenu is truly, truly wonderful. Heartfelt and clever!!!!

    Editor’s response: 🙂


  5. Actually I have several interesting stories about Pete!

    One, which I completely forgot about, but my brother reminded me of, was that both Pete and Woody Guthrie sang at my parent’s wedding. They got married during WWII and their wedding was a benefit for Russian War Relief. So , they came and sang.

    Just after we started the NYC Labor Chorus. We had mistakenly scheduled a rehearsal on Halloween and many of our members lived in places where they felt it was unsafe to be out about on that evening. So, we cancelled the rehearsal and the woman who was coordinating with Pete, who was coming to talk to us that evening, forgot to tell him. So, I get a call from her and she says Pete is on the train from Beacon. Now, Halloween in my house was sacred. A BIG deal. So, in exasperation I say to her, I thought obviously sarcastically, Well, what do you want? To bring him here for dinner??? She says, yup, and hangs up the phone before I could say anything else.

    They show up and needless to say it was AWESOME.

    The other great story, among many, was that Paul and I and my younger daughter and a friend were returning to NYC from Oregon after visiting my family. We had to change planes in Detroit and while in the airport we run into Pete and Toshi. We all go up and say hello and then Pete pulls the girls aside and begins to teach them the song that he had just written about Martin Luther King. He makes them sing it back to him 3 or 4 times and then he says, OK, now go off and teach all your friends this song.

    He never stopped organizing through the power of song. Truly, my hero and a hero to us all.

    Love – Laura

    Editor’s response: Wow! What can I say? These first-hand stories are fantastic… Most folks consider their wedding day to be pretty special, but your parents must have had very incredible memories of theirs considering who was providing the entertainment. So, what does one cook when Pete Seeger is coming for dinner? And getting a private (albeit in the airport) singing lesson from Pete must have been a real treat for the kids. Thanks very much for relaying these personal memories and reflections – Clearly, a hero for so many of us.


  6. I also attended University Settlement Camp as a counselor, group leader etc throughout the 70’s. Every summer Pete came and played at camp during what we called Council. Of course, everyone loved him and always eagerly looked forward to the day that he would come. When I was the oldest groups group leader, I had scheduled a 3 night camping trip which was going to be held on Pete’s property which was next door to our camp I found out he was coming to camp during that time and called him to ask that he reschedule.his visit to camp which he couldn’t. I was so upset but knew that the camping trip needed to happen The 2nd night we were there…..we were having a campfire and from a distance we all heard a banjo. Yes….Pete came to our campfire, holding 2 buckets as well and sang with us for over a hour. He then informed us that in the morning, we were to fill up the buckets with blueberries, bring them to his house and that Toshi would make us all blueberry pancakes. Over the years, he would come to camp during our reunions and each time, I was so grateful to be in presence. Pete Seeger was my hero. I last saw him perform at his 90th birthday party at the Garden. He was one of the greats and I feel very privileged to have known him.

    Editor’s response: Thanks Cindy, it’s great to share a common connection to Pete through University Settlement Camp. I loved your story about the overnight trip, your disappointment over missing his visit, the surprise campfire appearance, and Toshi’s blueberry pancakes! Thanks for sharing. It just feels so reflective of the kind of people Pete and Toshi were. I think everyone who had an opportunity to interact with Pete has similar feelings.


  7. Thanks for this. He will be sorely missed. I saw him perform in person only once, in 1973 or 1974 in Santa Cruz, California. I remember thinking that it was pretty amazing that someone who came across as so simple and unassuming could have so much presence and, for lack of a better word, “authority.” I guess that is what charisma is. In any event, if memory serves, he had the whole singing along pretty quickly and a rousing time was had by all.

    Editor’s response: Sorely missed indeed. Thanks Martin, very well stated.


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