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He set the grassroots ablaze with song

By Will Parry – Reprinted from The Retiree Advocate, August, 2007

My guitar work is less than distinguished, and my voice is nothing special. But if I do say so, I’m a pretty darn good song leader. And during the week this Retiree Advocate hits your mailbox, I’ll be leading the singing around the campfire for about the fiftieth consecutive year at Family Camp on Lake Wenatchee.

I learned how to lead group singing from a master: Pete Seeger. Me and about a million other guitar, banjo, mandolin, autoharp, accordion, harmonica and ukulele players.

At Family Camp we sing children’s songs, union songs, spirituals, patriotic songs, love songs, funny songs, sad songs. All through the last half century, Family Campers have learned these songs as children, sung them again as teenagers, again as mothers and fathers, and now some are singing them as grandparents.

We learned many of these songs from Pete Seeger. But Pete – still going strong in his 88th year – taught us more than words and tunes. He taught us the fun, the excitement, the pleasure, the satisfaction of coming together, across the generations and the genders, in song.

Pete Seeger has been singing for peace, justice, the union cause, and the happiness of boys and girls ever since his youth in the Great Depression. In 1950, with Lee Hays, Ronnie Gilbert and Fred Hellerman, Pete launched the Weavers. Their spirited music-making did much to trigger the folk revival of the 1950s and 1960s. Pete’s lively banjo and high-pitched tenor have brought people alive on picket lines and in churches, in summer camps and class- rooms, in union halls and living rooms –just about any venue you can think of.

And not just in our country. Acting on the sound theory that the whole world wants to sing, Pete has embraced the folk traditions of every continent.

One example among many: In Moscow, and again in Tokyo, thousands sang right along with Pete on “Wimoweh” and other African folk treasures.

This year, thousands of Pete’s fans from many countries are signing peti- tions asking that his lifelong contributions be recognized by awarding him the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize. The spon- sors are asking the American Friends Service Committee, which won the Nobel peace award in 1947, to formally submit Pete’s name.

In the depths of the Cold War, Pete was hauled before the House UnAmeri- can Activities Committee. Despite the threat of prison, he refused the com- mittee’s demand that he “name names,” citing the First Amendment right of free speech. Accused of singing on behalf of subversive causes, Pete offered to sing some of his songs for the commit- tee. No dice.

Today that execrable committee has been consigned to its rightful place in the damp cellar of history, while the folksinger it sought to vilify is beloved the world over.

As he should be. No other human being has done as much as Pete Seeger to set the grassroots ablaze with song. We’re rooting for him to be awarded this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.

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