The 'Pete Way'

By Kavallines, James, New York World-Telegram and the Sun staff photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsSome parents sing "Rock a bye Baby" or hum "Brahm’s Lullaby" to help quiet their kids for bedtime, but my brother and I were rocked to sleep with songs like “Down in the Valley” and “Goodnight Irene”. 

We lived in the Yakima Valley, and one of my grandma’s close church friends was named Irene, so I was well into grade school before I realized that these songs were not personally made up for our family, but were sung by one of my dad’s favorite groups: The Weavers. Pete Seeger, song writer, singer, activist was an important member of the Weavers. Born into a musical family himself, Pete popularized folk music in the best way possible - he got people to sing it. He made singing fun for people of all ages with stories like “Abiyoyo”  and “The Foolish Frog” or by teaching his listeners about how things were in the world by sharing his favorite song "Guantanamera".

See the thing is, for Pete, every song was a singalong. He got his audience involved in a way that was copied by singers like Arlo Guthrie, Harry Chapin and John Denver. In our family we called it  ‘The Pete Way’. Here is how the the ‘Pete Way' works. First Pete introduced the song with a story or background about it. Then he taught the chorus by feeding it line by line to the audience until they could sing it back to him. Then he taught the verses the same way, line by line. Then everyone sang it altogether. The main ingredient of the “Pete Way” was his enthusiastic energy: you simply could not ignore it. He had complete confidence that evil could be conquered by song. That singing was fun! There are some who called him a communist, a socialist, an atheist. Some who felt he couldn’t be trusted to be patriotic or true to his country. But Pete remained true to himself, to ideas about bringing freedom and justice to the world - one song at time. Because that is truly the “Pete’ way.

If you want to know more about Pete Seeger and listen to his music, take a look at my list.

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