Jamming with Pete Seeger I: Video Transcript

Allan Winkler [Distinguished Professor of History]: I wanted to teach a class on American folk music for Miami students. This would be a senior seminar, a capstone experience, for people in their final year. And I got a group of 16 students and, after the class was just getting underway, it occurred to me that it might be a wonderful experience to take the students to see Pete [Seeger] himself. It would have been remarkable to deal with this 90-year-old icon, who is really the father of American folk music.

Each of the students was going to be writing a research paper about folk music and the chance to talk to Pete and to ask him questions and to get his take was very valuable and could feed directly into their own research projects. And so I approached Pete, asked if he would do me a favor by letting me bring a dozen students or so to Beacon, New York. He agreed to do that. In the end we flew into La Guardia Airport, flew out at the end of the day, and had an absolutely remarkable 3½ hours with this man.

Will Hoyt [student]: Allan urged me to play. I was slightly out of tune at first. But I got to play with him and it was a very surreal experience, knowing that he had played with Bob Dylan in Mississippi during the Civil Rights Movement and Woody Guthrie in later movements and, most recently, with Bruce Springsteen at Obama's inauguration, and now me in his home. So it was a very humbling experience but very meaningful.

I grew up a very musical household. My father plays guitar. He always had an acoustic guitar lying around the house, and I picked up that when I was younger and he kind of taught me. So I think that I've always been involved in music, that's why I was drawn to this class. Definitely the Beatles were a major source of music in my house and Bob Dylan later. I wrote a paper last year about Bob Dylan, and my dad was able to talk about his experiences.

I think, when I left New York that day, I think that I came away with a life experience that's truly unique to being a student. I don't think, in real life, many people are presented with these opportunities. And I was just very content, I think, with my position, and I think I came away with a first-hand account of an historical figure instead of just a textbook. I came away with an experience and just the feeling that I'd been in the room with someone who has been in the room with so many people who I admire and have studied historically. It was a very great experience and it's almost like I'd met the real Forrest Gump, someone who has been involved in history in every aspect of it for the past almost 100 years.

Interviewer: Did you call your dad?

Will Hoyt: Yeah, I called my dad afterwards and he was very excited to hear the stories and that I'd brought my guitar, actually. I think he was a little jealous.

[October 2009]