From the editor.
I thought the man would live forever. What a champion of so many causes over the decades of his life, and a master of weaving music into this activism.
I'm so glad to have joined recent celebrations of his life's work. At last year's benefit concert at Proctors Theater in Schenectady, I enthusiastically sang along with Pete, as did a full house of supporters. In 2007, I joined the American Folklife Center's symposium and concert in honor of the Seeger family, at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, where Pete Seeger had been employed 67 years earlier by the Archive of American Folk Song. What a treat to be a part of the conversation, and, of course, to sing with Pete Seeger, his sister Peggy, his brothers Mike and John, his wife Toshi, and other family members.
As a college student, I first experienced Pete's power of music to fuel all his causes in a live, sold-out concert at Harvard University. It took place on Saturday, January 12, 1980, my weekend off from a somewhat boring Gloucester fisheries lab internship. I took a train into Boston and hoped to get tickets from someone by hanging around the hall. My notes from the time say, "No luck at all but it gave me a chance to go back stage and watch Pete put the finishing touches on an audience-participation sign, chat with some people, and smile a lot. He seemed genuinely nice." I remember the excitement of waiting with other folks hoping that, despite the announcement of a full house standing room, we'd finally get in. At intermission, a fellow college student and usher took pity and slipped me into the hall. He had me climb a ladder to a wooden platform holding spotlights above the hall, and from this perch, I sang along with the entire hall led by this extraordinary man. I was energized by the concert. I was energized by his message that every voice can be heard, everyone can take a part. What a good feeling!
"Pete," someone mentioned, "is the closest thing we have today to an American Folk Hero. His message is passed on in his song. A powerful tool."
I must admit, I love the Huffington Post's take on the man in a recent blog, "30 Things You Need to Know About the Hudson Valley Before You Move There": #20: "Pete Seeger is the unspoken king of Beacon. If you don't know who Pete Seeger is, prepare for a master class. The wildly influential folk singer-songwriter made the Hudson Valley town of Beacon his home for most of his life, until his death in January. These days, he's treated as a demigod around the area."
And why not, I could nod a bit smugly as a resident with eight-generation roots in the Hudson Valley. Pete Seeger was on the front lines of cleaning up our beloved Hudson River in the 1960s and '70s. His Circles and Seasons (1979) was a rallying cry for the youthful charter members of Ecology House at Colgate University. I especially love his "Sailing Down My Golden River" on this album (see insert). And fresh out of college, what a thrill for this member to join the volunteer crew of the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater (which Seeger co-founded in 1966) to teach environmental education and later use his songs and techniques to awaken environmental activism in our young campers at Wildwood, in neighboring Massachusetts in the early 1980s.
Yet even years before becoming a folklorist or a budding environmentalist, I was touched by Pete Seeger's power of song, without even knowing it. I was in elementary school in the 1960s, a bit young to be a part of his earlier causes. Nonetheless, Pete activism found its way to us in our rural, somewhat conservative village. I now see his hand in the technique used by my enthusiastic fifth grade music teacher, Mrs. Raycraft, who got a bunch of unruly rural fifth- graders to "stand up" and "sing out like we meant it," while she pounded out on the upright piano, Seeger's "If I Had a Hammer." In my rural Methodist Church, we all sang his "Turn, Turn, Turn" and "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?"--understanding both the message and the underlying encouragement that each of us could make a difference.
I must admit. Pete Seeger's passing has been hard to take. But his song reminds us, "To everything (Turn, Turn, Turn) there is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn).... A time to be born, a time to die.... A time to laugh, a time to weep.... A time of peace, I swear it's not too late."
Thank you Pete Seeger. Music moves the message. You may be gone, but your message lives on: Lend your voice. Sing out. Participate and make a difference.
Voices Acquisitions Editor Founding Director of the Folklife Center at Crandall Pubic Library