Today, the second day of the Memorial Day series, let’s take a look at Pete Seeger (1919- ), and then watch one of his lesser known, but more important songs. In addition to literally hundreds of songs, Pete wrote and first performed the anti-war/social justice songs “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” and If I Had a Hammer” (with Lee Hayes).
Pete’s parents were musicians—his father created the music dept. at Cal/Berkeley; his mother later became a professor at Julliard. After WWI, the family traveled around the country to bring music to the people; Pete was 18 months when he first “hit the road.” He hasn’t stopped.
He attended Harvard, and hoped to be a journalist, but dropped out. (Harvard still doesn’t have a journalism program, but Pete learned that journalism can be all media, and music is just one medium.) His ability on 12-string guitar and banjo, along with his writing and singing abilities, makes him one of the most powerful voices in America.
He traveled with Woody Guthrie, and then during WWII, he was an Army plane mechanic working in the Pacific Theater.
After the war, he became an integral part of the Almanac Singers and then the Weavers, folk singers with an edge. “Good Night, Irene,” written by Huddie Ledbetter, charted at no. 1 for 13 consecutive weeks. (Trivia: The “B” side was the Israeli song, “Tzena, Tzena, Tzena,” which also became a hit.)
For his entire career—he’s still performing at age 93—he has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the civil rights, labor, anti-war, social justice, and environmental movements. Obviously a subversive, Pete was blacklisted during the 1950s when right-wing politicians working with corporate business targeted those in the arts. (Sound familiar?)
In 1993, Pete was honored with a Lifetime Grammy, and was also inducted into the Rock and Roll hall of fame. At Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2008, Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen were honored guests, leading the nation in “This Land is Your Land.”
In spite of his fame he still lives a simple life; his home is a log cabin that he and his wife built along the Hudson in rural New York; he still spends time with the people who are a part of the music he has written.
But, on this, the second day of Memorial Day Week, let’s watch “Bring ’em Home,” a powerful call to end the war in Viet Nam—and all war. The song has been sung at anti-war rallies and in honor of those who died in battle. During the Gulf War, Pete changed a few lyrics—he added “Now I don’t want to fight for oil/Underneath some foreign soil”—and his song became even more relevant.
On May 28, we will take a moment to remember those who have died in combat, or whose wounds eventually brought about their deaths, sometimes years later. There will be more deaths—American, allied, Afghani—in the next few days before Memorial Day. But, let’s watch a song that may help us better understand that some wars should never have been created.
Please click on the following link to hear “Bring ’em Home”