By Nell Boeschenstein
Pete Seeger, who died Monday night at age 94, leaves behind a seven-decade legacy of music-making and battle-calling. For him, playing music was a deeply political act. It was his hope that one man and his banjo–around the pot of which he’d famously written, “This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender”—could do their part to change the world for the better. They did. Yet saying his hope was for the power of one man and his banjo is not quite right. What Seeger believed was that a man and his banjo could lead others in song and that a thousand different voices could sing together with a little help and direction, and that that sound was better than any sound one lone man could make on his own. As much as anything Seeger was a teacher and song leader, always ready with the words and a harmony, but always preferring to have the audience sing lead. He once said, “I’d really rather put songs on people’s lips than in their ears.” It was a beautiful metaphor for the way life could be lived—communally rather than in search of a personal spotlight—and it was impossible to resist when he’d say, “I can’t hear you. Sing louder.”
In that spirit, here are some of videos of Seeger doing what he did best: getting us to open our mouths and sing.
Michael Row the Boat Ashore:
The Water Is Wide:
This Land Is Your Land:
Nell Boeschenstein is a writer living in Virginia.