When Pete died, his C&C community responded immediately, anxious to retrieve and preserve our experience with him. On February 10, eight old-timers—seventh and eighth graders back then—gathered in my apartment to pool recollections of these two uncharted years. Some who couldn’t get to New York City phoned from around the country with remembered songs and anecdotes.
Prompting each other, we deduced that Pete came after the 1948 election. John, who had been in eighth grade, wrote from New City (near Haverstraw) that “the big rallies were in Madison Square Garden [50th Street and 8th Ave.] a week or two before the election. We went as a class project: Wallace on Tuesday, Truman on Thursday, and Dewey Saturday. Some of us even went to hear Norman Thomas on Sunday afternoon at Town Hall.”
Steve in Virginia remembered the Wallace rally because it was the only one with singing—led by Pete. He added that the first song Pete taught us was a pro-Wallace jingle:
It’s the same, same merry-go-round, Which one will you ride this year?
The donkey and elephant bob up and down, On the same merry-go-round.
Susan in South Carolina recalled that our class play, about the Underground Railroad, was inspired by the song, Follow the Drinkin’ Gourd, which Pete explained to us in detail. We painted the backdrop hot yellow. (Imaginative idea, but then, this was the school where Jackson Pollock had been the janitor.)
Collective memory placed Pete in our classroom with his banjo Fridays after lunch. He
brought word sheets that the school office had copied on the ditto machine, or maybe mimeographed. (Bob came in from New Jersey with a pile of them.) Several classmates admitted to teasing Pete about mismatched socks, yellow necktie, and his wiggly Adam’s apple.
—Excerpt from “Remembering Pete Seeger, Before He Was Pete Seeger”
Written by Leslie Kandell, Class of ‘50
The passing of Pete Seeger last week brings back memories of when Pete was a member of the City and Country School community. In the fall of 1948, Margaret Bradford Boni (Braddie), the school’s music teacher, invited a young folk singer friend of hers to come and sing at the school. After the 1948 election, where he worked for the Henry Wallace campaign, Pete came and sang with us, almost weekly, and particularly with my Thirteens class. I remember him as being friendly and encouraging, and with a collection of interesting songs that we had never heard before. Early in 1949 he brought three friends with him to sing at the school assembly. They were, of course, The Weavers, and in retrospect we were so privileged to have heard The Weavers before they made their professional debut. I kept up my contacts with Pete, and for the past 15 years I have been singing with the Walkabout Clearwater Chorus, a group that Pete founded in 1984 to carry his message in song. A lifetime experience.
—John Sarna, Class of ‘49
I remember sitting on the floor in a circle with Pete on a short stool as part of our circle. His songs were strong and passionate and his banjo jumped with vibrate tones. We were so young that we did not know of Pete’s history, but we knew he was a special talent.
—Tony Cherot, Class of '54
I knew Pete since 1949 or 1950, when he was the music teacher at my elementary school, the City and Country School, on 12th Street in Greenwich Village, NYC. No one else would hire him. For 60+ years, I have attended his concerts every time I had a chance. It was particularly fun to take my boys and have Pete greet their parents as old friends. He will be missed.
—Tony Robbins, Class of '54
The group that Leslie gathered remembered this list of songs:
The Banks Are Made of Marble
Blue Skies (two versions, with fast words and regular)
The Cat Came Back
Cumberland Mountain Bear Chase. (We clamored for this virtuosic solo.)
Enjoy Yourself, It’s Later Than You Think
Follow the Drinkin’ Gourd
Goin’ Down That Road Feelin’ Bad
Go Tell Aunt Rhody
I’m On My Way
If I Had a Hammer [Brothers version, pre-“brothers and sisters”].
In New York City, You Really Gotta Know Your Lines
It Takes a Worried Man
It’s the Same Same Merry-Go-Round
Kum Ba Ya
Listen Mr. Bilbo
Money is King
Newspapermen Meet Such Interesting People
On Top of Old Smoky. (Braddy’s Fireside book, now costs about $250.)
Outskirts of Town
Pay Me My Money Down (Sailing Day)
Pity the Downtrodden Landlord
Puttin’ on the Style.
Rock Island Line
Roll on Columbia
Rounds: Brandy Leave Me Alone, Streets of Laredo, I’ve Got Spurs, Shalom Chaverim
Shanty Town (Regular words plus fast version)
So Long, It’s Been Good to Know Ya, [dusty old dust version].
Study War No More
The Foolish Frog (Way down yonder with a yankety yank)
The Keeper Did a Wooing Go
This Land Is Your Land
T for Texas
Wasn’t That a Time
When the Saints Go Marching In