Last Tuesday morning I awoke to the news that folk music legend Pete Seeger had died. Hearing this news left me feeling heartbroken for most of the morning. Pete was more than just one of my favorite singers. This was a man I looked up to, a mentor, and his music was one of the ways he inspired me. I am who I am today, in part, because of the authentic life that Pete lead and encouraged others to lead.
Sometime mid-morning I started reading and hearing other countless stories on how Pete’s life impacted the lives of so many around me. I turned on the Pete Seeger playlist I made on my computer. “Turn, Turn, Turn” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” brought back so many memories. Campfires with my family. Rallies with fellow peaceniks. Sing-a-longs with my young students. My nostalgia began to turn my sorrow to joy. I realized then the true impact of Pete’s music: fellowship. “Participation,” Pete once said, “that’s what’s gonna save the human race.” His music brought me and so many others together in song. This is the power of the folk tradition that he helped rekindle.
When I left the office to head home, I found that I had started whistling the tune to “If I Had a Hammer.” My walk home is quite short. I got to the porch, banged the snow off my boots, and I walked in the door to the house. What do I find in my living room? A dozen of my friends gathered, with guitars and banjos, singing Pete’s songs.