When I heard the news about Pete Seeger — when I heard that we would not have this blessed man walking the earth any longer — I cried.
Throughout the day, I listened to various programs on public radio paying tribute to Pete Seeger’s life. On The Takeaway, John Hockenberry spoke with Dr. Alan Chartock, the CEO of WAMC/Northeast Public Radio and friend of Pete. Dr. Chartock made the comment that everyone has a Pete story.
My Pete story involves Minnesota Public Radio and a program called The Morning Show. I honestly cannot remember what the occasion was, but I was invited along with Kate MacKenzie and some others to come to Studio M for a taping. I walked in the studio and there, sitting in a chair with his banjo in his lap, was Pete Seeger. I wondered if this is what it felt like to meet God. For sure it is what it feels like to be in the presence of a person who has been true to his inner voices. It was a holy moment.
He was a songwriter, sure. And a darn fine musician. More than that, he was a troubadour who raised his voice and helped us believe we could make a difference just by raising our voices along with him. He’d start playing his guitar or his beloved banjo and pretty soon the whole room was singing along. Simple and pure. No fancy amplifiers or effect pedals.
I picked up the guitar when I was about 12 or 13. No matter how dark or painful my adolescent life felt, I had the guitar. I believe it saved my life. And the first songs I learned to play were mostly Pete’s: “If I Had A Hammer,” “Where Have All The Flowers Gone?” “Turn, Turn, Turn.” I learned songs by Peter, Paul and Mary and The Kingston Trio and discovered that they were singing Pete’s songs too.
I am grateful to have met Pete Seeger. It was a moment I hope I will never forget.
This past year, along with Dan Chouinard, I have been helping to lead a sing-along in the St. Anthony Park neighborhood of St. Paul. The songs range from folk to Broadway to the Carpenters and everything in between but rarely do we have an evening when we do not sing a song that Pete brought into our lives. The February sing will be an All Pete sing-along, and you are invited to bring your favorite Seeger song. Come with your guitar, banjo, dulcimer, but especially bring your voice. Usually, our sing-alongs are the third Monday of every month, but in February we are going to meet on Sunday afternoon, February 9th, at Luther Seminary, Olson Student Center, 2nd level, 1490 Fulham, St. Paul. We’ll gather at 2:30, and the singing starts at 3:00.
There are sing-alongs happening all over the country — people gathering, teaching new songs, harmonizing on the old ones. It is a beautiful thing.
Thank you, Pete. We will carry it on.