Where Have All the Folksingers Gone?


Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Where have all the soldiers gone?
Gone to graveyards, everyone
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

Where have all the graveyards gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the graveyards gone?
Long time ago

Where have all the graveyards gone?
Gone to flowers, everyone
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

Where Have All the Flowers Gone” by Pete Singer and Joe Hickerson  Inspired by a Russian folk song

I was in high school when folk music, often then called protest songs, seeped into my consciousness and into the soul of an America that was divided, separated by youth and age, fighting battles for civil rights, torn apart from one another by the Vietnam War. Many of that era’s great “battle hymns of the republic” were writing by Pete Seeger, who was named the “Tuning Fork” of a generation, a gentle man and a gentleman.

In college, I met my husband, Doug, who had joined a folk group, The Raleigh Tavern Singers, and much to his parents chagrin sang songs from this movement. He toted his guitar and sang everywhere, from the stage at Kleinhans Music Hall, to a rock next to a campfire. We went to concerts by Peter, Paul and Mary, Phil Ochs, Gordon Lightfoot, Simon and Garfunkel, and to sing with Pete, and we listened to Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, and Buffy St. Marie.

Seeger’s life exemplified to me one lived by a man who lived by his values. He was  a singer who fought a gentle battle for the hearts and minds of America, who persuaded us by writing songs and inviting us to sing with him. He didn’t sing angry or preach at us. He believed in us. He believed “this land was made for you and me,” and that we needed to care for it and cherish it. He changed us by being a moral compass pointing in the direction we should go.

From beginning to end his way was a witness that called us to our best selves. The songs evolved, the subjects changed (from labor to war to human rights to the environment), the tune at the heart of them remained.

Other singers since have had many of Pete’s gifts to reach us. Bono and U2, John Lennon, Bruce Springteen, Paul Simon, and Don Henley and the Eagles spring to mind. Perhaps to this generation there are some songs and current singers who have a goal of changing hearts and minds, Green Day and Pearl Jam are mentioned that way. But that’s not my music, and I would still argue that it is only the rare few like Pete Seeger, or Peter, Paul and Mary, who get people of all generations to sing along and change a nation by doing it.

“To everything, turn, turn, turn, there is a season, turn, turn, turn, and a time to every purpose under heaven.” The times they are a changing, but you taught us how not to be afraid. I wish there were more folksingers left who remember the tune.

Good Night, Pete, rest in peace. Now you can lead the angels in song…they already know the words.  You will be missed.

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About joanneeddy

Writer living in North Carolina. Originally from upstate New York. I love my family, my community, and my friends, and embrace 'living deliberately' in the world, trying to make a difference. I have written an as yet unpublished book, The Call, an epic fantasy with historical fiction and folklore elements. My blog is for other writers, for those who love a good read, and for all who, like me, are looking to find and live their call.
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