When we look around at elders, it’s interesting (and a bit awesome) to observe many engaged and committed people leading rich lives for as long as they live — and often despite fairly daunting physical difficulties. I usually think of my parents who use their energy to help others and solve problems in the world, despite sometimes frustrating aging concerns and occasional physical roadblocks. Participating in these activities energizes them. My mother describes it as, “living the Sermon on the Mount.”
I’ve been thinking about Pete Seeger, the activist folksinger who died at age 94 about a month ago. An amazing and prolific musician — I’ve sung his songs since I was a baby — he taught us a lot about music and singing and, more importantly, how to sing along with others. Seeger also combined his music with a strong social conscience, using the songs to demonstrate the importance of helping others and improving the world, and he did these things it right up to the end of his life.
Pete — just about everyone I talk with thinks of him as Pete, whether they’ve ever met him or not — also demonstrated how well a determined and engaged person can overcome daunting problems and continue to live a successful life right through the late elderhood years.
As a gifted middle-aged artist performing with a successful group, The Weavers, Pete was forced to appear, during the McCarthy era, before the House UnAmerican Activities Committee (HUAC), addressing accusations that he was un-American. That, along with the ensuing publicity, ended his career with the Weavers as well as the music group itself. But he persevered over the years, figuring out how to do what he loved — singing and performing — in small venues and, of course, bringing people together. Eventually the rest of the country figured out the absurdity of the accusations and the HUAC hearings and Pete’s career again moved forward.
Pete Seeger also modeled, perhaps less intentionally, how to age and how to work, in the process of growing older, at making the world a better place.
As he aged, he lost his mellow singing voice, probably sometimes in his late 80s. While Pete could not sing like he used to, he continued to perform, playing his banjo and often collaborating with other musicians. And there were wonderful singalongs everywhere he went. Arlo Guthrie, at a recent performance that I attended, told us that sometimes when Pete commented that he was too old to sing on stage, Arlo reminded him that his fans were also growing much older and most likely experiencing the same aging issues. Pete Seeger sang on.
As he grew older his commitment to using music to help people, seek peace, and improve the environment never flagged. Pete continued to demonstrate and and stand up for issues that he thought were important — big projects like cleaning up the Hudson River or smaller events just helping people out in church basements — even if many causes had no hope for success. He committed himself to a Quaker principle, witnessing, that encourages a person to stand up and speak out even if there is no chance of making a problem go away. Right up to the last months of his life, Pete stood up (literally and figuratively) with people who were working on issues he believed in. He never stopped.
Just look around and observe the many aging seniors and elders who are living their lives exactly as Pete did — countless adult role models who demonstrate on a day-to-day basis — not just how to age well, but how to do good. Take a moment to notice just how these individuals overcome problems (or take them in stride), and how they keep on living rich and committed lives, even when life presents additional and unexpected roadblocks.
As we adult children continue to age, it’s these role models that we want to personify and not forgetting one of the most amazing examples of aging well and going good — Pete Seeger.
Pete Seeger Remembrances
- Pete Seeger, Champion of Folk Music and Social Change, Dies at 94 – New York Times
- Pete Seeger, Legendary Folk Singer, Dies at 94 – Washington Post
- Pete Seeger, Dead at 94 – Rolling Stone
- Pete Seeger Was Folk Music – Slate
- Interview with Arlo Guthrie About Pete – Time Entertainment
- Folk Musician Pete Seeger, As Remembered by His God-daughterr – NPR
- Loud, Committed and Strong and Always in Search of America – New York Times
- Remembering Pete Seeger - SesameStreet Workshop blog
- Harry Belafonte and Arlo Guthrie Induct Pete Seeger into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – YouTube
- Some Amazing Videos of Other Artists Singing Seeger’s Songs – The Oregonian