On this sad occasion of Pete Seeger’s death, I feel that I must dedicate a blog entry to him and his influences on me, and the world. I entered the world in the 50’s. It was a heady time of growth after World War II, but there were dark things going on that deprived citizens of the USA of their rights as people in this country. Whether we talk of civil rights, farm workers’ rights, the anti-war movement (dare I call it the PEACE movement?) or union rights, Pete Seeger and others he influenced took the fight for justice and peace to the airwaves. It came on the simple words to catchy tunes repeated by people of all races, colors, creeds and countries.
Perhaps not so much through his own singing, but through his playing or writing songs which others made famous, I was mesmerized by the folk music which became popular during my formative years. It’s no wonder I didn’t know much of Pete himself, as he was my parents’ age. I didn’t come on the scene until 1952, and so didn’t really understand the Dust Bowl/Depression Era songs for which he was famous, until much later. Indeed, when I was 11 or 12, I thought he was a newcomer on the folk scene. My passion was folk music at the time and if I was singing, it was most likely something from the repertoire of Peter Paul and Mary, the Kingston Trio, The Byrds or Simon and Garfunkel.
Pete Seeger’s repertoire became the soundtrack of my teen years and the reason I became comfortable on the stage, playing guitar and singing. His music was everywhere! At campfires I learned Kumbaya, a Gullah song he brought to the masses. I sang songs he had written as well as those he made famous, such as “Where have All the Flowers Gone?”, “Turn, Turn, Turn”, “We Shall Overcome,” “If I Had a Hammer,” and Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” to which he added these lines for Native Americans,
This land is your land, but it once was my land,
Until we sold you manhattan island.
You pushed our nations to the reservations;
This land was stole by you from me.
Pete Seeger was a huge part of my growing up, learning guitar, singing in a group and by myself, participating in protests against injustices. For I had the honor of living in the time of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Caesar Chavez. I had the honor of protesting against the War, and for civil rights and union rights. Pete Seeger's music followed me all through those formative years.
I continued the tradition by teaching my classes to sing and play his songs. His songs as well as songs of others were invaluable in teaching background knowledge for Social Studies or as culminating celebrations. My students used their reading skills in interpreting the verses of Where Have All the Flowers Gone? And we sang “This Land Is Your Land” many times when learning about the Depression, Dust Bowl, Civil and Union Rights, and the Wars of the 20th century. He will still live in the songs of my students and their children, as his songs are truly timeless. Maybe one of them will write an additional vese to that song in the future.
I have not stopped singing Pete Seeger’s songs, nor have I stopped protesting unfair laws and policies such as No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. I will bring his words and tunes with me to my grave, I am sure. Pete Seeger was Every Man in Every Country, and there will not be one like him soon, if ever again.
I was thrilled to watch this at President Obama's inauguration. Don't you know I sang along loudly.