I never knew the banjo was a hillbilly instrument.
When I first saw a banjo, it was in my father’s arms.
My father was a chemist, a business owner and a banjo player.
He didn’t play with a group. He played for fun, he played for us kids, but he also played for himself, a lot, probably more.
I didn’t know who the Weavers were, and frankly I didn’t know who Pete Seeger was, except when I figured out that the amazing music that came out of my father’s banjo came from him.
My parents weren’t big into kiddie music, or maybe they were. Because thanks to Pete Seeger I was introduced to Clementine, John Henry, songs that were synonymous with America.
No one had the ability to reach out and make you feel history, through music, like Pete Seeger did. He had a way of using words – the lilt of his voice, to make history into a story you wanted to hear, a song you wanted to play again and again.
An individual event, evoked a feeling of a time long gone. Every image in my head about the beginning of our fair country is there, because of Pete Seeger’s music, coming through my father’s banjo and his voice.
As I grew older I heard more of Pete Seeger actually performing his own music. We would listen to his music at home. Often in the background, but familiar and part of our family fabric.
There was something about his voice, it was like there was a hook at the end of it. When he sang, when he spoke – you wanted to follow him wherever he went.
As a parent, it seemed a given, that I would share Pete Seeger with my son. And as a parent with a love for music, I looked and discovered a world of Pete Seeger I didn’t even know existed. There was so much more than I had ever known. Of course that makes sense, my father couldn’t have learned every song Pete Seeger had ever sung. And he also could not re-create that completely unique voice and personality. I loved my father more than the world, and I loved him for introducing me to Pete Seeger, because…. well, Pete Seeger.
I can’t say Pete Seeger will be sorely missed, because Pete Seeger lead an amazing full life, and created music and stories that will be with us for the rest of our lives. He became a part of America, the embodiment of American Music. His stories have been passed on from generation to generation. I should know. We are on generation #3 over here. I can only hope that he left this world knowing how much a part of our lives he had become. How it is impossible to be a child in America without singing a song that Pete Seeger sang. And although many of his songs were considered “traditional” in the sense that they were passed down from generation to generation through story-telling or song. You can be sure that without Pete Seeger, you and I would not be singing them this day.
An example of that is a song that Pete learned from his father Charles, and on which they both embellished. It was previously known as The Frog Song performed by May Irwin and written in 1896. Pete made it his own and so did his sister Peggy after hearing their father tell it over and over and over. Click this link to see her version, it’s much longer!
This song comes with some great advice, “I’m glad to know you’re singing those songs yourself, because that’s a lot better than just listening to them. And if there are parent’s out there that like to tell stories, I hope you make ’em up sometimes yourselves and don’t always just get ’em out of a book. Sometimes you can make up better stories because you know just what to say!”
The Foolish Frog – Pete Seeger
There’s nothing I can think of that would honor Pete’s memory more than for us to continue singing his songs, and telling our own made up stories to our children.
I love you Pete, have fun playing your banjo in heaven with my dad!