As appreciations and memorials for legendary folk singer Pete Seeger, who died last night at the age of 94, roll out around the country, we’d like to join in with a brief look at one day he visited our neighborhood.
He’d been scheduled to visit the Central Library at Grand Army Plaza on September 15, 2001, to discuss the recently released children’s book Pete Seeger’s Storytelling Book. Following the tragedy of September 11, rather than cancel, the event was rescheduled for November 17, and turned out to be less about the book, and more about music and healing.
Michael Ragsdale, a crew member for C-SPAN who was working to tape the event (you can see the entire performance online here), shared his recollection of the day in a post written in 2009. After speaking briefly about the book, Seeger and two other musicians played songs for an hour, and about halfway through, he performed The Bravest, written by Tom Paxton about firefighters who had died on 9/11. Michael says of the moment:
I’ll never forget Seeger’s rendition of it – as well as the sound of the crowd – consisting of people of all ages – as they loudly joined in on the chorus:
Now every time I try to sleep
I’m haunted by the sound
Of firemen pounding up the stairs
While we were running down
And since the terrorist attacks and collapse of the twin towers had occurred in nearby Manhattan only two months earlier, it moved a lot of the Brooklyn Library audience (and me) to tears.
But it wasn’t just the audience at the library who was moved by Seeger that day. Bernard J. Graham, president of the Park Slope Civic Council at the time, happened to run into him when Graham was stopping by the Squad Company One firehouse to invite the firemen to join the St. Francis Little League for the dedication of a pee wee team, which was to be renamed the Squad One Dalmatians in honor of members of the house who were missing after 9/11:
As I spoke with the Captain, I noticed three men with guitars taping a written piece of music to the firehouse. The more senior of the three was Pete Seeger, who graciously greeted the firemen and my kids and introduced the song as a Tom Paxton piece written about September 11th. The musicians were on their way to the main library at Grand Army Plaza for a concert, but first proceeded to sing the song to the small assembled group on Union Street. The firemen were no doubt affected by this warm moment.
In a lifetime filled with activism, it’s a small moment, but it helps show how those little things can often make a big difference — which may be something we can all find inspiration in.