Pete Seeger Turns 92

I was 15 years old the day I met Pete Seeger.

4,000 people singing the roof off the Auditorium Theater in Chicago. Mesmerized. This rail thin guy. Sleeves rolled up in his flannel shirt. Singing at the center of a bare stage. Just him and a guitar or banjo.

I have rolled up the sleeves of my flannel shirt ever since.

After the concert; clutching a meaningless piece of paper signed by the advisor to my high school radio club, someone actually let me follow a line of journalists up on to the stage of the emptying theater.

Standing with a crowd of about 20 up on stage. Surrounding Pete Seeger who was politely answering questions. Looking out on to the oceans of empty seats, all the house lights up.

It was finally my turn.

High School Radio Reporter ready for his moment. Sticking out my gangly arm to shake hands with the great man; and drawn in by the kindly eyes of time, he said; “And what can I do for you, young man?”

Open mouth, eyes wide and forgetting every imagined, written out and approved by my radio club teacher; I stammered: “Ah. . .um. . . thank you sir.”

He smiled and said “Why, you’re welcome.” And then here’s what happened. I have never forgotten this sight. And I never will.

Pete Seeger, who had just sang by himself to thousands, and sang about what really mattered, picked up his guitar case in one hand, his banjo case in another, hopped down the steps on the side of the stage, came back to he center aisle; and proceeded to walk up the center aisle towards the back of the theater.

Then, all of us real and would be reporters following him; watched him walk out the front door of the Auditorium Theater, out into the horns blaring, bright light Chicago night, hold up his guitar case to hail a cab; get in to the first one that stopped and drive away into the darkness.

Years later, I saw him again at The Peoples Church on Lawrence Avenue. The man could appear anywhere he wanted. In the world. Yet here he was. On another Chicago night across the street from the faded Aragon Theater singing in a struggling church.

And here’s the part that lifts him up into the realm of being one of the great souls to ever walk the earth. Here’s what astounds. That night at Peoples Church, the man could barely sing. His voice was almost gone. But it was OK. We sang for him. We sang for him. Living out what he taught us. It wasn’t about us. It wasn’t even about him.

It was about the song.

He will sing forever. And when you listen to him sing; you’ll sing too.

3 Responses to “Pete Seeger Turns 92”

  1. Helen Gagel Says:

    Thanks Roger — the country can’t possibly go completely to hell as long as Pete is around. Your post reminded me of the only time I saw him in person — his 80th birthday concert at the Chicago History Museum, which included a kids’ chorus singing a new song of peace that he had composed for the occasion. We are now into the 4th generation of Seeger fans. What a legacy!

  2. Paul Haider Says:

    Pete is still an inspiration to all of us. It was during Pete’s 90th birthday celebration at Madison Square Garden that Bruce Springsteen said, “Pete, you outlasted all of the bastards!” It’s hard to imagine that Pete was blacklisted and perceived as such a threat in the past, but he is exactly what we need more of today. I, Paul Haider, promise to be more like Pete Seeger. Now, where is my six-stringed machine that kills facists? Oh, I think I’ll sing “Bring ‘Em Home.”
    Paul Haider, Chicago

  3. Paul Haider Says:

    We need Pete to sing “This Land Is Your Land” again from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. As he did in January of 2009, Pete will be required to sing every single one of the originally writte verses of that Woody Guthrie song.
    Paul Haider, Chicago

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