When Pete Seeger died on January 27 this year the world lost one of its greats. To get a bit of an idea how great read this tribute to him and his influence on the British folk scene by Martin Carthy.
As a song-writer he wrote songs that are now so much part of the tradition that many people who sing them may not even be aware that he wrote them. Songs like, “If I Had a Hammer”, “Where Have all the Flowers Gone?” and “Turn Turn Turn” – lyrics borrowed and slightly adapted from Ecclesiastes Chapter 3 (This is Judy Collins’ version). He also helped to popularise “We Shall Overcome” as the anthem of the Civil Rights Movement. (Click in the links to go to videos of the songs)
Out of all the songs that he wrote, “Quite Early Morning” is the one that speaks to me the most. It is an old man’s song of hope. Most of us, as we get older, get more pessimistic about the future of the human race, but Pete never gave up on his hope that we would eventually get our collective act together.
Some say humankind won’t long endure,
But what makes them so dog gone sure.
The song I think sums up his life as a political, environmental and civil rights activist, and his hope that the next generation can and will take up the challenge of making the world a better and fairer place.
There are quite a few versions on You Tube, and I have posted links below. I can’t find Holly Near’s version on YouTube, but I do have a Spotify link;
Holly Near Quite Early Morning
Pete Seeger when he was (a bit) younger
Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie
This version of the song is by The Rivertown Kids, a group of young people from his home-town in New York, who get together to sing and work toward environmental and social justice. Pete acted as their mentor and I suppose great-grandfather figure. One line in the song says;
When these fingers can strum no longer,
Pass the old banjo to the young ones stronger.
This, I think is what he meant.
Through all this world of joy and sorrow,
We still can have singing tomorrow.
Thanks Pete for your life, songs and inspiration.