Musician and Trailblazer Pete Seeger passed away last night at the age of 94. His influence on the world will be heard for years to come in his own timeless songs and the songs of the generations of musicians who have been inspired by him. He was key to the founding of CMN 25 years ago, and will be sorely missed. An outpouring of love and remembrance from members was on the list-serv today, some of those beautiful musings, wishes, and remembrances are below. First though, is a story from writer Scott Alarik that captures the spirit and power of Pete Seeger and his mark on the world.
In the 1970s, Pete Seeger was invited to sing in Barcelona, Spain. Francisco Franco’s fascist government, the last of the dictatorships that started World War II, was still in power but declining. A pro-democracy movement was gaining strength and to prove it, they invited America’s best-known freedom singer to Spain.
More than a hundred thousand people were in the stadium, where rock bands had played all day. But the crowd had come for Seeger.
As Pete prepared to go on, government officials handed him a list of songs he was not allowed to sing. Pete studied it mournfully, saying it looked an awful lot like his set list. But they insisted: he must not sing any of these songs.
Pete took the government’s list of banned songs and strolled on stage. He held up the paper and said, “I’ve been told that I’m not allowed to sing these songs.” He grinned at the crowd and said, “So I’ll just play the chords; maybe you know the words. They didn’t say anything about *you* singing them.”
He strummed his banjo to one song after another, and they all sang. A hundred thousand defiant freedom singers breaking the law with Pete Seeger, filling the stadium with words their government did not want them to hear, words they all knew and had sung together, in secret circles, for years. What could the government do? Arrest a hundred thousand singers? It had been beaten by a few banjo chords and the fame of a man whose songs were on the lips of the whole world.
Member Joanie Calem had this to say:
I have emulated Pete’s emphasis on group singing. I also waver between despair and hope about the state of children’s singing in community, of people’s singing in community, but most days I come down on the side of hope. I think that the pendulum will swing, and as children’s music becomes more commercial and slick and produced, there will be more people longing for something simpler and community oriented.
While I was songs editor for the Children’s Music Network’s publication “Pass It On”, I worked with Pete on a couple of songs. The last one that he submitted was called “God’s Counting On Me, God’s Counting On You” which he co-wrote with Lorre Wyatt. Great song, inspired by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that was decimating Louisiana at the time, but though it had been inspired by a particular event, the lyrics transcended that event. But, the lyrics caused a small uproar amongst many liberal CMNers who would never sing a song about God and were surprised that Pete had written in that way…..I mentioned that to Pete, and he just chuckled and answered kind of wryly, “Oh well…..at my age….”
So here’s to Pete….here’s to singing…..here’s to community…..here’s to encouraging simplicity and honesty in our musical sharings. Here’s to Pete’s unwavering focus on community rather than stardom. I am very grateful for the example that he provided me of something different in a world of fame and commercialism. That world doesn’t interest me and his choices reassured me that there are other ways of being a musician and a community song-leader.
Member Patricia Shih also weighed in:
As I sit here at 3:00 a.m. with insomnia I discover the news that one of the finest human beings on the planet Earth — and great friend of CMN– Pete Seeger died yesterday. I feel like I’ve been punched in the gut and tears fill my eyes so I can hardly write this.
Pete was a HUGE huge influence on millions of musicians, songwriters, activists and other people. I have a personal connection with him as he told me about PMN, which gave birth to our beloved CMN. I was honored to have performed with him many times, and to share a few meals and stories with him. His impact on my life is immeasurable and I feel like I’ve lost a mentor and friend. He made so many people feel that way as well.
The world will not see the likes of Pete Seeger again. Rest in peace, dear Pete.
Member Stuart Stotts wrote a lovely piece about Pete on his blog. Read it here.
Member Jason Didner also wrote a blog piece on Pete’s influence. Read it here.
Mother Jones put together a play list of some of the more memorable songs and moments from Pete’s long and memorable life. Find it here.
The New York Times obituary is here.
We will sing with you in our hearts, Pete. Rest in Peace.