In Memoriam pays tribute to those who have left this world, and the songs they left us to remember them by.
We would be remiss in our duty here at Cover Me if we didn’t take a moment to honor Pete Seeger, who passed away on January 27 at the age of 94.
Seeger was the twentieth century’s phosphorescent light of traditional folk music. Whether he was adapting works of unknown authors to strike tremendous chords (“Goodnight Irene,” “We Shall Overcome,” “Turn! Turn! Turn!”), introducing modern songs to audiences who weren’t quite ready for them (he recorded “Black and White” sixteen years before Three Dog Night took it to number one), or writing everlasting classics of his own (“If I Had a Hammer,” “Where Have All The Flowers Gone?”), Seeger knew the importance of bringing music to the people. “I am proud that I never refuse to sing to an audience, no matter what religion or color of their skin, or situation in life,” he testified to the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1955. “I have sung in hobo jungles, and I have sung for the Rockefellers, and I am proud that I have never refused to sing for anybody.”
Seeger’s concerts inevitably turned to community singalongs, with audiences joining in on songs they may have known for seventy-five seconds or seventy-five years. Under his guidance, everybody who ever attended a Pete Seeger concert became a cover artist. Seeger taught us that it wasn’t the quality of our voices that mattered; it was the volume to which we raised them. He made millions of gardens grow, inch by inch and row by row, and America is the better for his having done so.
Here are some Pete Seeger covers, with Seeger serving as both subject (his song) and verb (his performance).
Pete Seeger: The Power of Song, a documentary on the life and work of a true legend, is available on Netflix and Amazon.