My favorite Pete Seeger moment:
MR. TAVENNER: Mr. Seeger, prior to your entry in the service in 1942, were you engaged in the practice of your profession in the area of New York?
MR. SEEGER: It is hard to call it a profession. I kind of drifted into it and I never intended to be a musician, and I am glad I am one now, and it is a very honorable profession, but when I started out actually I wanted to be a newspaperman, and when I left school —
CHAIRMAN WALTER: Will you answer the question, please?
MR. SEEGER: I have to explain that it really wasn’t my profession, I picked up a little change in it.
Pete Seeger before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1955, irritating the powers-that-be with the simple act of being Pete Seeger.
My second favorite moment came in the late sixties, when Seeger commissioned the building of the Clearwater, a river sloop modeled after the Dutch vessels that had once sailed the Hudson. With that boat as a symbol and a traveling schoolroom, Seeger started a wave of environmental activism that still exists today. It’s not wrong to say that Seeger started the movement that eventually forced GE to dredge their PCBs out of the Hudson.
(And on a personal note, this sparked a number of environmental groups. I cut my teeth as an archivist processing the papers of a number of them.)
Here’s Pete with a solo rendition of his hit from the Weavers, “So Long, It’s Been Good to Know Ya,” a song about the destruction of the Dust Bowl.
Now, the telephone rang, an’ it jumped off the wall,
That was the preacher, a-makin’ his call.
He said, “Kind friend, this may the end;
An’ you got your last chance of salvation of sin!”
The churches was jammed, and the churches was packed,
An’ that dusty old dust storm blowed so black.
Preacher could not read a word of his text,
An’ he folded his specs, an’ he took up collection,
Said, so long, it’s been good to know ya;