Pete’s Rainbow Quest

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Oh, had I a golden thread
And a needle so fine
I would weave a magic strand
Of rainbow design, of rainbow design

So Pete Seeger would sing at the beginning of his early 1960s television show, Rainbow Quest, on WNET, channel 13 in New York City. It was the height of the folk music boom (or as some call it, the folk scare), and Pete would come on picking his strange hybrid of old time clawhammer banjo and Charlie Poole three finger style, with his own many innovations thrown in. He’d welcome little known guests on the show playing strange music for city people, Doc Watson, Mississippi John Hurt, The Greenbriar Boys, Johnny Cash and Roscoe Holcomb.

It had been a hard road for Pete. He’d traveled a bit with the old timers in the late 1930s, with Woody and Cisco Houston, this Harvard dropout from New York City; he’d been a music star, as the Weavers, his folk group from the first folk scare in the late 1940s had hit the pop charts with their versions of Leadbelly’s “Irene, Goodnight,” and Woody’s “So Long, It’s Been Good To Know You.”


And then the McCarthy era came about and Pete, with his ‘People’s Songs’ reputation faced jail when he unstintingly refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities committee, and was blacklisted from the performing and recording jobs that made him his living.

But Rainbow Quest, and his early 1960s Live at Carnegie Hall album proved to be extraordinarily powerful influences on any young person who was seeking to express him or herself by picking up a guitar or banjo in an era of civil rights injustice, atomic power and cultural awakening.

But it was more than just music that so inspired the children, that still inspires so many. It was the joy of the music as he wielded it in the name of peace, justice and the environment, and the gentle, yet fiercely uncompromising way of speaking of the truth to power. And he continued through the decades, until making his final appearances this year, using a walker, croaking song with as much voice as a nonagenarian can muster, but unbowed.

Here’s how Clearwater, the organization Seeger formed to clean up the Hudson River, gave us the basics on Pete’s passing:

“Pete Seeger, legendary folk singer-songwriter and activist, founder of the modern environmental and Hudson River Sloop Clearwater founder, passed away on January 27, at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City surrounded his family. Seeger, whose name is synonymous with cause music and a major figure in American Folk music, was age 94. Seeger had been in excellent health for the majority of his life and performed concerts and at gatherings up until recently.

Seeger is recently preceded in death by his wife of 69 years, Toshi Alina Ota, who passed in July of 2013 at the age of 91. Seeger and his wife, Toshi met at a square dance in 1939 in New York City and were married in 1943. Together with Toshi, Seeger founded Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Inc., and the Great Hudson River Revival, the annual music and environmental festival that takes place at Croton Point Park in Croton, NY.”

Seeger planted the seed that started Hudson River Sloop Clearwater when he and a few friends, decided to ‘build a boat to save the river’ with the belief that a majestic replica of the sloops that sailed the Hudson in the 18th and 19th centuries would bring people to the river where they could experience its beauty and be moved to preserve it.

Seeger was able to inspire people to make the dream a reality; the keel was laid in October 1968 and christened with Hudson River water. The 106-foot sloop Clearwater was launched on May 17, 1969…”

From Susan Manuso: “The world lost a musician saint. I love this poem but don’t know who wrote it.”

But Pete Seeger ain’t dead, I say to you, Peter Seeger ain’t never died
Where workers, peace workers, environment workers fight and organize
Pete Seeger’s by their side
Pete Seeger’s by their side

Jeanne Nametz, of West Hurley, called Seeger, “the People’s Troubadour.”

She said, “watching Pete Seeger sing reminded me of a sunflower turned to the sun. Tall and lanky Pete Seeger would often sing with his eyes closed, head slightly tilted as if

basking in the rays of the sun. In the Jewish mystical tradition the lamed vovnik is one of the righteous holding up the world.