Ben Harris’ nuanced portrait of Pete Seeger (“He Hammered Out Justice,” Jan. 31) sparked this recollection.
In 1958, my senior year at Columbia College, I had a brief but beautiful encounter with Pete Seeger. A folk-song aficionado, I organized the Columbia Folksingers Club in conjunction with several Barnard women. Our weekly gatherings on a Friday afternoon hit near nirvana with a guest appearance by that legendary troubadour, the Pied Piper of folk music, forever-young Pete Seeger.
In our pre-event negotiations, Pete agreed to come only if he could demonstrate his then-current passion: the Trinidad Steel Drum. Seeking no compensation but the shared love of people’s music, Pete came with wife Toshi and Trinidad drum. With Toshi’s approval, he sang songs and predicted that, fortified with good music and high ideals, we would turn things around on Columbia’s campus with a march, not to Pretoria this time, but to the dean’s office.
Clairvoyant but premature by slightly more than 10 years, Pete Seeger proved prophetic. His political leftist orientation never wavered, but his views, as Ben Harris correctly observed, evolved. Clearly, “Tzena, Tzena,” the Weavers’ hit song in 1950, largely crafted by Seeger in concert with Fred Hellerman, Ronnie Gilbert (both Jewish) and Lee Hays, gave the nascent state of Israel both international exposure and a tremendous boost when most needed. His death left a void in my heart and a deep sense of loss for all who admired, indeed revered, this mensch for all seasons as we heed the call of Ecclesiastes to “Turn! Turn! Turn!”