McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK


January 31, 2014

Ramblin' round

Remembering Pete

McALESTER — He had a hammer.

Pete Seeger’s been around as long as I can remember. That’s why the world seemed a little emptier when I learned of his passing Monday.

In a world that all too much these days seems driven by a “what’s in it for me?” attitude, Seeger’s long career stands as a beacon of integrity. He sang and performed throughout many of the 94 years he lived on this earth and had been a fellow songster and friend of Oklahoma’s own Woody Guthrie.

As an elementary-school kid, I remember watching the ABC television show called “Hootenanny,” built around the folk music boom at the time, the “great folk scare,” as its practitioners affectionately called it.

I remember seeing many of the popular folk groups and solo singers of the time on “Hootenanny” — big groups such as The New Christy Minstrels singing “Green, Green” and “Today,” the Serendipity Singers with “Don’t Let the Rain Come Down” and The Rooftop Singers with “Walk Right In.”

Those were just the groups. “Hootenanny” also featured enduring solo artists such as Judy Collins and even Johnny Cash.

I never saw Pete Seeger on the then-popular television show, though. Years later, I learned he had been blacklisted for refusing to name names when called before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1955.

Even though “Hootenanny” ran on ABC nearly 10 years later, from April 1963 to September 1964, the blacklist remained in effect, blocking one of America’s great folk singers (though he would never have called himself that) from singing on a national television show touted as devoted to folk music.

Seeger wasn’t the only folk singer I never saw on “Hootenanny,” however. I later learned why.

Less than a year after “Hootenanny” went off the air, in the summer of 1965, I held one of the then-ubiquitous transistor radios to my ear one night in Raton, New Mexico, and heard a sound on a new record that forever changed the way I listened to music — something raw, unadorned, visceral, from the gut, six minutes of what even then my young ears defined as pure poetry from the streets set to a rock beat: Bob Dylan singing, chanting, rapping “Like a Rolling Stone.”

I had never heard anything like it before, or since, but I knew I wanted to learn all I could about the creator of such revolutionary music, as well as those who’d inspired him.

As a result, I would later learn why, along with Seeger, I’d never seen artists such as Dylan, Joan Baez; Peter, Paul and Mary, The Kingston Trio and Tom Paxton — another Oklahoman — on “Hootenanny.” Because the program’s powers-to-be had blacklisted Seeger, then Dylan, Baez, et al., had blacklisted “Hootenanny,” so to speak, refusing to appear on a TV show that treated the great American folk singer unfairly.

I would also learn that during that groundbreaking year of 1965, Dylan had outraged many folk purists at the Newport Folk Festival by — gasp! — daring to play an electric guitar instead of an acoustic one, supposedly a prerequisite at the time for many in the folk music in-crowd, which not only had claimed Dylan for its own, but also felt entitled to chart the artistic direction for the young lion as well.

Many in the crowd at Newport that night booed Dylan, although those who were there said many were cheering also.

Ironically, one of the stories that gained credence through the years supposedly had Seeger looking for an ax to chop the cables leading to amplifiers blasting Dylan’s new rock music across the hallowed grounds of the Newport festival site.

Seeger later denied the accuracy of the story, but did say he’d been among those shouting at the stage —but only in an effort to let Dylan know that the cacophony from the guitars, drums and organ were blasting over Dylan’s vocals, making it difficult to hear — much less understand — his words.

I myself had doubted the story about Seeger and the ax all along. I just couldn’t see Seeger, the Johnny Appleseed of American song, trying to deny anyone the right to be heard.

Which comes again to the House Un-American activities persecution of Seeger in the 1950s and the subsequent blacklisting of the ebullient singer.

Many of the causes Seeger sang of — civil rights, environmentalism, the rights of workers to organize —are now deeply woven into the American fabric.

The House Un-American Activities investigations led by then-Sen. Joe McCarthy were soon widely discredited.

But Seeger sang and strummed on, delivering his message to a world sorely in need of his calming balm, often armed with only his banjo.

As it turned out, it didn’t matter so much if Seeger had been blacklisted by “Hootenanny,” which was shot at a different college campus each week.

Around that time, Seeger embarked on a tour of college campuses on his own, taking his message directly to America’s youth and then, as throughout his career, getting them to join him in massive sing-alongs of the American song.

He not only sang traditional songs, but wrote his own songs too, which will no doubt continue to be sang around campfires 100 years from now if the world endures that long.

How could the writer, or adapter, of songs such as “We Shall Overcome,” “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?,” “If I Had a Hammer” and “Wimoweh,” now better known as “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” be considered anything but an American treasure?

One of Seeger’s greatest songs, “Turn! Turn! Turn!” has lyrics adapted from the Bible — Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3, to be exact: “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.”

Wherever people join together to celebrate America traditional music and the natural beauty of the country, to uplift the downtrodden and cut down injustice, Seeger’s spirit will endure.

And yes, a song will rise.

Contact James Beaty at

Text Only | Photo Reprints
  • Saundra Kaye Offill

    Saundra Kaye Offill, 67, lost her 7 year battle with Alzhiemer’s on Thursday, July 10, 2014. She was born in McAlester, Oklahoma on March 11, 1947, to Louis and the late Melba Vanlandingham.

    July 16, 2014

  • Square logo.jpg ‘Is anything sacred anymore?’

    What do we know about the “The Star Spangled Banner” ?

    July 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • Square logo.jpg Any hope in new MPD facility?

    July 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • ent_taylorswift.jpg There's less good music now — here's why

    Taylor Swift, the seven-time Grammy winner, is known for her articulate lyrics, so there was nothing surprising about her writing a long column for The Wall Street Journal about the future of the music industry. Yet there's reason to doubt the optimism of what she had to say.

    July 9, 2014 1 Photo

  • Donald Sterling needs to go away

    Whether it happens due to a quick settlement or a likely longer trial, Clippers owner Donald Sterling just needs to go away.

    June 19, 2014

  • CHRIS-MORRIS-2.jpg Prescription drug abuse

    Tip of the Week
    You can be arrested for driving under the influence of prescription medication, so follow your recommended dosage or don’t get behind the wheel.

    June 9, 2014 1 Photo

  • Kevin Durant Kevin Durant’s grace period will end soon

    After his 7th season ended Saturday with the Thunder’s Game 6 loss to the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals, the grace period for Oklahoma City superstar Kevin Durant may soon be drawing to a close.

    June 3, 2014 1 Photo

  • Billy Guy Ferrell

    Billy Guy Ferrell, died Saturday, May 24, 2014, at a nursing home in McAlester.

    May 30, 2014

  • Square logo.jpg Congress faces risky decision on National Security, local aerospace jobs

    When you’re in the middle of errands and your fuel gauge hits the red zone, what do you do? Skip the gas station and try to make it back home on ‘E’? Even if you make it home, what will you do the next time you need to drive your car? It’s not worth the ten minutes saved. Who wants to be stranded on the side of the road, forced to walk to the nearest filling station or wait for a tow?

    May 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Todd Lamb From the Capitol: Staycation in Oklahoma

    With the summer travel season quickly approaching, many Oklahomans are making plans for their summer vacations. I would encourage Oklahomans to look in our own backyard and explore all that Oklahoma has to offer this summer. All ages and all travel enthusiasts can find something of interest here at home.

    May 21, 2014 1 Photo

Seasonal Content
AP Video
Two Women Narrowly Avoid Being Hit by Train In Virginia, the Rise of a New Space Coast New Sanctions on Key Sectors of Russian Economy Crayola Announces Family Attraction in Orlando US Ready to Slap New Sanctions on Russia Kerry: Not Worried About Israeli Criticism Boater Rescued From Edge of Kentucky Dam Girl Struck by Plane on Florida Beach Dies Rodents Rampant in Gardens Around Louvre House to Vote on Slimmed-down Bill for Border Looming Demand Could Undercut Flight Safety Raw: 2 Shells Hit Fuel Tank at Gaza Power Plant Raw: Massive Explosions From Airstrikes in Gaza Giant Ketchup Bottle Water Tower Up for Sale Easier Nuclear Construction Promises Fall Short Kerry: Humanitarian Cease-fire Efforts Continue Raw: Corruption Trial Begins for Former Va Gov. The Carbon Trap: US Exports Global Warming Traditional African Dishes Teach Healthy Eating
NDN Video
Weird 'Wakudoki' Dance Launches Promotional Competition Two women barely avoid being hit by train Chris Pratt Adorably Surprises Kids at a 'Guardians of the Galaxy' Screening Chapter Two: Designing for Naomi Watts NOW TRENDING: Peyton Manning dancing at practice "The Bachelorette" Makes Her Decision Thieves pick the wrong gas station to rob Golden Sisters on '50 Shades' trailer: 'Look At That Chest!' Staten Island Man's Emotional Dunk Over NYPD Car - @TheBuzzeronFOX GMA: Dog passes out from excitment to see owner Baseball Hall of Famers Inducted 'Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1' Sneak Peek Florida Keys Webcam Captures Turtles Hatching Morgan Freeman Sucks Down Helium on 'Tonight Show' Robin Wright Can Dance! (WATCH) She's Back! See Paris Hilton's New Carl's Jr. Ad Big Weekend For Atlanta Braves In Cooperstown - @TheBuzzeronFox Chapter Two: Becoming a first-time director What's Got Jack Black Freaking Out at Comic-Con? Doctors Remove 232 Teeth From Teen's Mouth

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.