Jamming with Pete Seeger II: Video Transcript

Allan Winkler [Distinguished Professor of History]: Pete Seeger is a remarkable man. He has been active in every major reform movement in the course of the 20th century. He was active in the struggle for unionization in the 1930s. He was active in the struggle for civil rights and civil liberties in the 1950s. He opposed the war in Vietnam in the 1960s. He became a crusader in the environmental movement in the 1970s and 80s and 90s. And, in each effort, he has been absolutely scrupulous. He has indicated a powerful sense of integrity. He has been an activist. He has been somebody true to his own beliefs and commitments, and I wanted the students to have a chance to see that. I wanted the students to have a chance to see how somebody could make a difference, even a folk singer strumming his banjo. I wanted them to see what commitment meant and the results that it brought. Here is the father who really crafted the song, "We Shall Overcome," that became the anthem of the civil rights movement. What is he like? Where did that commitment come from? How did he make it something that developed over the course of years, decades, and we still sing it today.

I also wanted them simply to have the experience of seeing somebody who was a legend in his own time and will continue to be. And one of the things that Pete has done for his entire life and career has been to get people singing, to get audiences to come together. And he believed that if people could sing together, they could work together and they could make a difference in the world. And, in a very real sense, I think he's right.

Kaya Burgin [student]: I decided to take this capstone because I love music. It moves my soul. It's amazing. When I first signed up for this class, I really didn't know anything about folk music. I thought it was some country music — just a little something. But I learned that folk music is a way for marginalized people to say what they have to feel and lift up their voices and sing out to the people and to the government, as well, if they will listen to them. And especially being African-American, I find that some of the things that they talked about, African-Americans were struggling, too.

Elyse Ryan [student]:Pete's views tend to be more idealistic. He said that he sang in order to make a difference. He believes that in bettering other people's lives, you could better your own life. And I agree with him. I tend to be a little more of an idealist myself and I would love to have a career in a non-profit organization or something like that where I believe I could make a difference. And I think that visiting Pete and talking with him really helped me sort of solidify my views and realize that I, too, could make a difference.

Kate Noble [student]: I think the most powerful song that we sang altogether was "Turn, Turn, Turn." It's a song that I knew growing up and that I just always kind of had in my head and always knew it but maybe didn't know that Pete sang it forever. But I've always loved that song. It's interesting because we were talking about the Byrd's version and how he loves to see what other people do with his music and how they interpret it. Same thing, he wanted all of us to be singing and he wanted everyone to be playing the guitar and really participating in the music. It's fun when he lets everyone else take ownership of his music as well and participate in it. It feels more of a community singing together rather than Pete singing at us and that was one of my favorite parts of the trip.

Sara Garofalo [student]: You know, doing what you love is so important because he's done with he's loved to do for his entire life. And it was really inspiring to me to really do what you want to do with your life and not let anything stop you, despite any kind of hardship and people that are going to tell you that things are wrong or you're on the wrong side of things and or wrong side of movements — to keep fighting and to really stay strong to what you believe in and that really came across.

Allan Winkler: One of the things that Pete Seeger has said to me, in his own writing and elsewhere is that he sees himself as part of a long chain. He is singing songs that generations of people have been singing in the past. He is learning those songs, reviving them, teaching them to other people like me and now, in turn, to my students and keeping the chain going. He views himself as a teacher and, in a very real sense, he is.

[October 2009]