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Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary gave “Down by the Riverside” a line about fracking. Vanaver Caravan, a dance troupe backed by a folky string band, added a verse about income inequality and the Occupy movement to “Union Maid.” The bluesman Guy Davis updated Lead Belly’s “Midnight Special” with references to Dick Cheney and Guantánamo.

That’s how Pete Seeger’s messages and methods — using sturdy traditional tunes to carry topical thoughts — were carried on at Lincoln Center Out of Doors’ part of Seeger Fest, a five-day memorial to Pete and Toshi Seeger held in New York City and around the Hudson Valley. Pete Seeger died in January, just six months after the death of his wife, Toshi.

He was extraordinary, but here’s what strikes me. Anybody who really wanted to could do what he did. Sure, he was a good musician, but there are lots of people with better voices—walk into any college conservatory in the country and you’ll find a singer with a rounder tone, a more operatic sound. Sure, he was good on the guitar and the banjo, but there are people in my personal acquaintance who are better. He wrote some wonderful songs, but they’re hardly models of musical sophistication. His talent was considerable, but not really anything amazing—maybe not even all that special.

What was so incredible about Pete Seeger was not any singular gift or talent. What we celebrate, what we remember, was not a man who could do things no other person could, but rather a man who spent his whole very long life walking with a whole heart toward what he believed in. Whether it was his 70-year relationship with his beloved wife Toshi or an afternoon’s connection with a crowd at a concert or a protest, Pete was fully present, fully engaged, ready to be connected. He was a man who knew the power of the people, and who used the considerable force of his personality not to draw attention to himself, but rather to engage people with each other, and with their ability to create positive change. He gave himself, and he kept giving—not as a martyr, but as someone who found great joy in the giving.

From a blog post on Pete Seeger by Lynn Ungar: A Whole Heart: Remembering Pete Seeger (via tartantambourine)

Pete Seeger entertaining Eleanor Roosevelt
Photographed by Joseph Horne

Pete Seeger entertaining Eleanor Roosevelt

Photographed by Joseph Horne