5 Days of Pete Seeger: Day 1, If I Had a Hammer & a Pete Seeger Story

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Pete Seeger performs on a TV show in East Berlin, on Jan. 3, 1967.
Zentralbild—AP

From My Family to Your Family, Uniting the World in Song; A Pete Seeger Story

Pete Seeger was born into a very musical family. Music was in his blood.

Both of Pete’s parents were classical musicians. Pete’s father studied music at Harvard and was passionate about musicology. He helped establish several of the first and most well-known musical education and research programs known to this day.

Pete’s mother was a professional concert violist who studied music in Paris and later taught at the most prestigious music school in United States.

All four of Pete’s half-siblings were well-known musicians, mostly in folk music.

When Pete Seeger was young, his father took the family on a road trip. At first, the plan was to share their music with the working people of the south. But, when they visited with other families, they found that all these families already had music of their own.

It became Pete Seeger’s mission to discover the music from people of all different backgrounds. He would learn to play and sing the songs that were most precious to each family. Then, he would share this music with the world.

The first step needed to be to learn how to play music. He began playing the ukulele when he was 8 years old. Then, in his teenage years, he went to a folk music festival with his family and became fascinated by other unique instruments, such as the banjo and 12-string guitar.

The next step would be connecting with more people. In college, Pete Seeger spent a summer touring with a puppet theater group which gave him the opportunity to stay with rural families across New York State. Here, he found that many people were craving unity just as himself.

Step three: he would learn as much as he could about different kinds of music. He took a job working for the Library of Congress where the archives of music recordings are stored. His fascination with American folk music grew stronger. And, not long after that, he was moving on to the final step: performing and sharing good music with the world.

Over the next two decades, he co-founded two prominent bands: The Almanac Singers and The Weavers. In these groups, he sung alongside many other popular folk singers of the time, including Millard Lampell, Lee Hays, and Woody Guthrie. Many of the songs they sang were ones he had discovered amongst common American family from all types of ethnicities and cultures.

Even after leaving the groups, Pete Seeger kept on singing, recording music, and touring. He sang songs that came from immigrants of Africa, Spain, Israel, Mexico, and all around the world. He sang songs that came from the workers in the fields. He sang songs that were meant just for kids. And, he sang songs that were from his heart about peace, love, and justice.

In the movie, “Pete Seeger: The Power of Song”, Pete said:

Once upon a time, wasn’t singing a part of everyday life? As much as talking, physical exercise, and religion? Our distant ancestors, wherever they were in this world, sang while pounding grain, paddling canoes, or walking long journeys. Can we begin to make our lives once more a world of peace? Finding the right songs and singing them over and over is a way to start. When one person taps out a beat, while another leads into the melody. Or, when three people discover a harmony they never knew existed. Or, a crowd join in on a chorus as though to raise the ceiling a few feet higher. Then, they also know there is hope for the world.

Song of the Day

“If I Had a Hammer”

This is one of the most famous songs actually written by Pete Seeger. But, as Pete believe strongly in working together with others, even this wasn’t completely solo effort. He wrote it with his bandmate, Lee Hays. Their band, The Weavers, recorded it first. However, it first became truly famous over a decade later, when the band Peter, Paul, and Mary recorded it.

Here is the version by Peter, Paul, and Mary: