When I arrived at college in the mid 1950’s, I knew nothing about folk music. Pete Seeger was all the rage on campus and when I heard him sing Where Have All the Flowers Gone?, a lump formed in my throat. The song ended, I could do nothing but stand up and cheer. One could say mine was love at first hearing. Next, came, This Land Is Your Land, This Land is My Land, and a feeling of camaraderie swept over me, enough, I hoped, to silence all the guns everywhere in the world.
Other songs followed, Kisses Sweeter Than Wine, and even On Top of Old Smokey, a song I learned in elementary school but which Pete sang with new depth. Who was this Pied Piper who courted his audience with a strong voice and wonderful storytelling set to music? He touched my youth, he touched my idealism, he touched my hope for a better world. He touches me now as a man who never gave up his dream, who kept singing his songs in the belief that if he persisted, one day his countrymen might understand his message. He was more than a writer of songs, he was a troubadour of conscience. A man who never became bitter, he survived the communist witch hunt of the McCarthy era and narrowly escaped being imprisoned. Blacklisted for years, not until 1967, was he invited to appear on the Smother Brothers television program, though throughout his ordeal his concerts continued to draw large audiences. Politics never could silence him.
Pete Seeger died on January 27, 2014 and what saddens me is that I see no champion like him on the horizon. His voice was never lifted in anger. His songs filled his listeners with compassion. He taught them, us, to love a dream that seems impossible. Goodbye Pete Seeger. My youth is buried with you as well as a piece of my heart.
(Originally posted 3/7/14)
(Pete Seeger courtesy of www.nndb.com)