During my lunchbreak reading I just saw that Pete Seeger has passed away. I grew up with Pete Seeger's warm, beautiful voice and his distinctive banjo and 12-string picking. In my appalling singing voice, I often sing his version of "Hobo's Lullaby" to my kids at bedtime. So, it's a sad day. Here are a couple of his songs, and below are some of the posts I've published about him."Hobo's Lullaby":
[There's a live recent version here, Seeger over 90 and no longer on form but still moving.]
With Arlo Guthrie, singing "You Got To Walk That Lonesome Valley":
With Johnny Cash, singing "Worried Man Blues":
Finally, a much older and no longer full-voiced Seeger singing Dylan's lovely "Forever Young". Cheesy, but poignant:
In 2009, I wrote this:
I was brought up on his sweet, clear, warm voice. I sing "Hobo's Lullaby" to my kids, in the version I learnt from him. My son also likes to sing "Shake Sugaree", the song written by Elizabeth Cotton, who cared for Pete's younger half-siblings when they were kids. The Elizabeth Cotton story is amazing: a self-taught genius who only reached an audience when she was over sixty. It was pure coincidence that Cotton found little Peggy Seeger when she was lost in a department store, which led to the Seegers employing her as some kind of housekeeper or maid, after which she rediscovered her childhood passion for guitar and began to record and play live.
Without the Seegers, she would have been unknown to the world of music, and the world in general would be a poorer place for that. But there is also something a little icky, a little colonial, about their patronage of her, with which I am uncomfortable. However, even my heart was melted by this lovely YouTube clip of Elizabeth with Pete, posted yesterday by Paulie, with her telling the story of and singing her classic, "Freight Train".
This clip, to me, alone justifies the existence of YouTube.In 2007, I posted this guest post by Jogo, on Seeger's belated denunciation of Stalin:
Amazingly, I did not notice this NYTimes story when it appeared Sept 1. I read about Seeger this evening on worldnetdaily, the rightwingy website, and then I googled and found the Times article. The article links to a short piece by Seeger's former student Ron Radosh. The story had been linked to and commented upon by many blogs, but this was all news to me until a few minutes ago.
If you did not live through my time and in my environment, and did not experience him many times yourself, you can know only intellectually who Seeger was in the Left community of the 40s and 50s. There is no comparable person today. The outsized Bono is no Pete Seeger. He doesn't make the emotional connection Seeger made.
Joan Baez came close for a while, but she didn't have Seeger's longevity. John Lennon, Bob Marley and Fela Kuti were global Pete Seegers, but they were grandiose characters who didn't operate on the humble man-with-a-banjo level of Seeger.
Victor Jara was probably on Seeger's level, but he was murdered by the fascists he sang against. Seeger was never murdered, and while his fascist enemies gave him a hard time, they have allowed him to sing, travel, speak his mind, make many recordings (to the point of becoming an icon of American folk music generally), own property and live a very long, very happy life.this in 2008:
Of course I do appreciate the very greatest thing about Pete Seeger -- he tried to sing a new world into being. Too bad he was wrong about Stalin; and wrong, too, about Steve and Loretta trying their best to make a clean, safe life in Daly City (the community in the South SF Bay that inspired the disgusting snotty song "Little Boxes"). Pete never had to live in a little box. Pete was a Bohemian. He and Toshi bought their land in Beacon in 1949, while my family was living in a little box in a vertical tower of boxes.
Also read: Funky Woody Guthrie; Folk music and the trad left; Deportees.
UPDATE: Also read Jim Denham on Seeger's break with Stalinism; Ron Radosh's posts on Seeger.