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Pete Seeger, American Treasure, Dies at 94

Seeger in Buffalo, 11/9/13. (Photo by Heather Quigley)

Seeger in Buffalo, 11/9/13. (Photo by Heather Quigley)

I woke this morning to the news that American folk music icon and outspoken advocate for the future of humankind, Pete Seeger, had passed away.

Just three months ago, Seeger took the time to speak with Artvoice on two separate occasions to help promote his appearance here in support of the Western New York Peace Center at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center. It may have been the last interview he ever gave. The conversations took place simultaneously as details of the gig were being ironed out between Seeger himself and longtime friend Chuck Culhane, chair of the Prison Action Committee at the Western New York Peace Center, on speaker phone.

When Culhane called Seeger’s phone number, his daughter Tinya answered. She chatted for some time about her Dad, and wanted people on this end to understand that he was 94 and might need a little extra care—like being reminded to eat—since he so liked being active.  Even though it was the longest trip from home that he’d made in years, he was not charging anything for the appearance, and turned down the offer of a flight here and back. “It’s almost impossible to get direct flights these days,” he observed. He would travel from his home in Beacon, NY by car, with a friend driving—so he could get out and stretch his legs from time to time. “It’ll take a long time, but that’s quite alright,” he said.

As for equipment requirements, he would need a PA and microphone, since he would only be traveling with his banjo and guitar. Depending upon the size of the room, he requested a stage. It would only need to be a few feet in height, he said, so people in the audience could see him as he lead them in song. His only only other request was extra pillows for his hotel bed, so he could put his feet up at night.

Those who attended his performance won’t forget his charisma and charm. He spoke at length about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and reiterated themes of tolerance, acceptance, and the right of every individual to be not just an observer, but a participant in life. He spoke out against fracking in New York State with new verses he penned to Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land.” He remarked how lucky we were to have a group like the WNY Peace Center, and wished that more areas had such organizations devoted to peace. His performance of “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” was buoyed by audience participation and drew wild applause.

On July 9, 2013, Seeger had lost his wife and partner Toshi Seeger—just eleven days short of their 70th wedding anniversary. He once wrote: “Thanks to my wife Toshi, without whom the world would not turn nor the sun shine.” They are survived by three children—Daniel, Mika, and Tinya—eight grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.

His passing is also being felt by the millions around the world who gained inspiration and hope from Seeger, the father of American folk music.

 

 


  • Chuck Culhane

    Great remembrance, thanks! Off-stage at the Convention Center on November 9th friends from Burning Books, Leslie and Theresa brought their child, Eliza to meet Pete. Pete 94, Eliza 3, locked eyeballs and off they went on a half-hour journey of conversation, song and storytelling…Pete treated this child with more attention and tenderness than he’d give to an audience at Carnegie Hall. That was Pete Seeger!

  • Mark Holster

    He was a good man, and smart

  • Kevin Hickey

    He made the world a better place.

  • BlackRockLifer

    Pete Seeger was a true gentleman, always humble, caring, and genuine. He challenged his critics and his supporters to look beyond their own interests and work together for the common good. He represented the best of the left, ready to lend a hand and committed to the end to the cause of fairness, decency, and respect.

    • TheCommonSenseOne

      From http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/01/29/the-death-of-stalin-s-songbird0.html

      “The Death of ‘Stalin’s Songbird’
      Pete Seeger’s love of Stalinist ideals endured through the nightmare of pogroms and purge trials in the Soviet Union. His totalitarian sympathies should not be whitewashed.”

      “But as the encomiums threaten to overwhelm, it’s important to remember that Seeger, once an avowed Stalinist, was a political singer devoted to a sinister political system–a position he held long after the Soviet experiment drenched itself in blood and collapsed in ignominy.”

      “It’s no surprise that a man who believed the purge trials—during which approximately a million innocents were executed—were rough but necessary justice would also ignore the brutal, sustained, and widely-known campaign against Soviet Jewry.”

  • Jeff O’Connell

    I did (along with another videographer) capture Pete’s entire performance at the dinner. I hope to share it someday soon.