When I heard of Pete Seeger’s death late yesterday, I recalled the one time I had the pleasure of seeing the legendary folk singer and songwriter in concert.
It was a cold February night in London in 1978 and I was anxious to see the singer who had written so many inspirational songs about justice, freedom and peace, such as ‘If I Had a Hammer’ and ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’, which The Byrds so wonderfully popularised.
Indeed, we were taught many of Seeger’s songs in primary school back in the sixties by a young nun who loved the American folk singer’s protest songs, and, over the years I had grown to love his music and identify with many of the causes he sang about.
His campaigning for workers’ rights, his anti-war protests, and his commitment to environmental causes made him much more than an entertainer of which he was one of the best.
But back to that night in London.
After losing my way to my designated seat in the Royal Albert Hall, I inadvertently wandered into one of the private boxes that have the best views in the concert hall.
A memorable and remarkable concert
But my embarrassment was soon forgotten as my newfound friends made me feel welcome and I stayed in my VIP seat throughout what was one of the most memorable and remarkable concerts I have ever attended.
Pete Seeger didn’t have a backing band.
His powerful singing voice, accompanied by his banjo, and engaging story-telling, was more than enough to hold a packed Albert Hall spellbound
I recall he was joined that night by a folk group from Chile, Quilapayun, who had been exiled during the brutal dictatorship of General Pinochet.
It was common for Pete Seeger to use his concerts in the US and worldwide to highlight some social injustice of the day.
And on that night in London, those singers from Chile represented the kind of people Pete Seeger sang about all his life – the poor, the oppressed and the marginalised.
But Pete Seegar didn’t just sing about justice and freedom, the inequalities of the world, and environmental causes.
He practised what he preached and his liberal, pro-union views, often got him in trouble with the US authorities.
He may have passed on, but his songs will live on and be sung by many more generations.
I can highly recommend a tribute CD
For anyone interested in finding out more about the songs of Pete Seeger, I can highly recommend a tribute CD ‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone: The Songs of Pete Seeger’.
It’s a wonderful double CD, featuring such singers as Jackson Browne, Bruce Springsteen, Judy Collins, Bonnie Raitt. And Ireland’s Dolores Keane and Tommy Sands, give a beautiful rendition of “Where Have All The Flowers Gone”. The late great Tommy Makem, along with many more talented singers and musicians, give a new lease of life to many well-known Pete Seeger songs.
One of the stand-out performances on the CD is Ani Difranco’s magnificent interpretation of Pete Seeger’s great anti-war song, ‘My Name is Lisa Kalvelage’.
2 replies on “Remembering a legendary folk singer”
I was at the concert at the Albert Hall on the 7th of March 1978. I went to see Pete Seeger mainly because of his association with Woody Guthrie. Imagine my delight when he started with a song which he said was taught to him by Woody. It was a life-changing experience for me which was because of the pain and passion of the Chilean musicians and audience. I went as a comfortable conservative and left converted to one who has fought for justice for the powerless.
Richard, thanks for taking the time to comment. The words of another lovely Pete Seeger song “Old Devil Time” seem apt all these years later.
No storm nor fire can ever beat us down
No wind that blows but carries us further on
And you who fear, oh lovers gather round
And we will rise to sing it one more time