By Barbara Joye
Like many of you, I woke up this morning to the news of Pete Seeger’s death. As I read the many reviews of his life’s accomplishments and controversies that followed, I struggled to temper my sadness with thankfulness that I had been able to hear him in person a few times — at my progressive high school during his blacklisted years; headlining a benefit for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (where he introduced a then unknown Phil Ochs); at the Highlander Center in Tennessee; and, just two years ago, co-hosting, with Harry Belafonte, a benefit for the American Indian political prisoner Leonard Peltier.
I missed the New York DSA event at which I am told he sang, as I had moved to Atlanta by then, but I met friends of his within weeks of arriving in my new city. His friends and followers were everywhere.
He touched my life, our lives, in so many ways that I was at a loss for words, so I turned to one of his old friends, Frank Hamilton, who lives and performs in Atlanta. Frank was briefly a member of the Weavers (1962-3) and together with Pete Seeger, Guy Carawan and Zilphia Horton arranged the civil rights version of “We Shall Overcome.” He and his wife and singing partner Mary Hamilton sent this tribute:
“Pete was the guiding light behind the folk music movement, celebrating the possibility for social change, inspiring everyone with whom he came into contact; not just a great performer but an important educator and visionary who showed us that we can have a better world if we just plant the seeds for it in whatever seemingly small things we do. His music will resonate around the globe, a model for what music can do as a powerful source of improvement for our ailing country. Through his music, we understand what socialism means and its healing properties.”
Barbara Joye is recording secretary of Metro Atlanta DSA and a member of DSA’s National Political Committee.
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