Goodbye, Pete! Thanks for Everything!
By Shlomo Maital
The beloved American folksinger Pete Singer died on Jan. 27. He was 94.
Seeger sang, wrote songs, protested and performed for over 70 years. I remember hearing him in concert, in Ottawa, 50 years ago. He sang “The Bells of Rhymney”, accompanied himself on the 12-string guitar. That guitar, hard to play, sounded like an entire orchestra, and amazingly, like the Bells of Rhymney.
Seeger once belonged to the Communist Party. That won him a blacklist in the U.S., during the McCarthy era, and kept him off TV. But in the end that was a benefit. He toured college campuses widely, and became an icon.
He and Joan Baez made the song “We Shall Overcome” the anthem of the civil rights protest movement in the 1960’s. Amazing what a difference one word makes. The initial lyrics were, “we will overcome”. Seeger changed it to “we SHALL overcome”. Why? “Shall” is assertive, definitive, emphatic. We SHALL do it.
As a member of The Weavers, Seeger recorded “Good night, Irene”, which made it to the top of the charts in the 1950s.
Seeger wrote great songs, like “If I had a hammer”, “Where have all the flowers gone,” and my favorite, “Turn, turn, turn” – the song they played when I first met my future wife, at Princeton Hillel.
Bye, Pete. We’ll miss you. We’re glad you sang and performed to the end, and that you had only a brief illness. Basically, you died with your boots on, singing and performing, playing that wonderful banjo, sometimes the 12-string. You taught us that there are many ways to protest, and singing is one of the most powerful.