Uncle Pete is gone. I miss him already.
He lived to 94, but considering what he packed into those years, I’d say he was really more like 188 when he died the other day. Consider these facts:
Pete Seeger wrote, co-wrote, or adapted all of the following songs:
- We Shall Overcome
- If I Had a Hammer
- Where Have All the Flowers Gone?
- Turn! Turn! Turn!
All the royalties from We Shall Overcome go to the We Shall Overcome Fund of the Highlander Center, which provides grants to support the organizing efforts of impoverished Southerners for improved conditions.
He and his group, The Weavers, were called before the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s, then blacklisted for their Communist ideals (i.e., the shocking notion that people ought to be treated and paid fairly).
Later, when The Weavers recorded a song to advertise Lucky Strike cigarettes, Uncle Pete left the group, not wishing to support the tobacco industry.
Uncle Pete traveled the world with his guitar and banjo. Twice, he came to my town, Durham, North Carolina. One of my earliest memories is of him bounding around the stage as he enacted the chorus of a song–something about a giant named “Abayoyo.” “Aba-yoyo…Aba-yoyo…” I must have been about six years old, but I can hear him now.
Uncle Pete was married to the same woman his whole life. They lived in a modest cabin in upstate New York where, in his 90s, Uncle Pete still split his own wood.
I won’t even go into all his efforts to stop the war in Vietnam, to support the Civil Rights Movement, to clean up the Hudson River, to bring Israelis and Palestinians together…You may already know. If you want to learn more or spend some time remembering, you can read about them in his New York Times obituary.
For now, I just want to say: Thanks, Uncle Pete. Thank you for lending your voice to the voiceless. Thank you for giving your boundless energy to the poor, the desperate, the war-weary, the polluted waters. Thank you for your beautiful example, living your life with such humble simplicity.
What’s your favorite Pete Seeger song? What does it evoke for you? Please share–then take some time to hum or sing it to yourself as you go through your day.