Pete Seeger lived a long life: In an odd fact, Pete Seeger and John F. Kennedy were classmates at Harvard, class of 1940.
(According to cable logic, that means they were “best friends in college,” perhaps even “childhood friends.”)
As it turns out, Seeger and Kennedy weren’t best friends in college. Seeger dropped out in his sophomore year. He was soon doing things like this:
BARNES (1/29/14): He worked briefly in the folklore archives of the Library of Congress, and for a time he traveled through the state of New York, painting watercolors of houses in exchange for room and board. But mostly he hitchhiked across the United States, mixing with like-minded political leftists, singing and picking up new tunes and techniques.Pete Seeger was a very unusual person.
In the course of this odyssey, he once said, he learned "a little something from everybody," and along the way he acquired a vast repertoire of ballads, spirituals and blues songs. Guthrie and Lead Belly were among the many musicians the young Mr. Seeger met in this period.
Musically, he was never a favorite for us. We used to find his “Come on, let’s all sing together” approach annoying. In the end, he wore us down in the 1982 documentary, Wasn’t That A Time.
In that film, he was so overwhelmingly himself, and so overwhelmingly positive, that we saw we had to surrender. “Some things are just worth singin’ about,” he declares in that film, or something very much like that.
We’ve been looking at footage of Seeger this week, including some of the hour-long tapes of his little-watched 1965-66 TV series, Rainbow Quest.
We’ll save the best for last. We also watched these:
He joined a very young Donovan for a lovely rendition of Colours, the simplest song ever written.
He spoke with Elizabeth Cotten, who was “discovered” by his musicologist father and composer stepmother—but only after she had worked in their home several years.
(“I never could stand to see children cry,” Elizabeth Cotten tells him.)
In 1963, he joined the very young Dylan at Newport for a version of Ye Playboys and Playgirls. That’s him playing banjo at Newport in the mid-60s for The Blue Ridge Mountain Dancers.
The footage we’ll most strongly recommend comes from his hour with Johnny Cash and June Carter. About 32 minutes in, Seeger sings the Peter LaFarge song, Coyote, My Little Brother.
Wow. He sings it extremely well.
It was LaFarge who wrote the beautiful song and invented the way a person should sing it. That said, we were surprised to see how well Seeger sang it that day, with June Carter looking on.
Pete Seeger lived a long life as a very unusual person.
For extra credit: Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee did Rainbow Quest too. We’d have to say they received a bit of a cornball introduction.
With the rest of The New Lost City Ramblers, Mike Seeger joined his half-brother on Rainbow Quest for a version of Ragtime Annie.
Who knew Pete Seeger played mandolin? Once he managed to get out of school, Pete Seeger lived a long life.