Long Time Passing: Kronos Quartet & Friends Celebrate Pete Seeger

A Man for All Seasons

Listening Post 287. Just as we remember Bach and Beethoven, future generations will surely know Pete Seeger (1919-2014). From McCarthy-era blacklisting to performing at President Barack Obama’s inauguration, with an ebullient tenor and wielding a five-string banjo or 12-string guitar, the seminal folksinger-songwriter etched a riveting but humble profile on America’s music landscape. He had classical roots—father a composer, mother a concert violinist—so it’s fitting that his legacy is celebrated by Kronos Quartet, the Grammy-winning string-ensemble-without-borders, joined by a perfect congregation of artist friends. The 15 tracks of Long Time Passing are necessarily selective and suggestively encyclopedic, featuring folk standards Seeger wrote or popularized (his adaptation of an old spiritual made We Shall Overcome the Civil Rights anthem). It also exhibits his global folk sense, embracing a Hindu devotional theme borrowed from Gandhi’s Salt March, two Spanish Civil War songs and a refrain from Mbube, the Zulu song Seeger heard as Wimoweh and The Tokens later embellished as The Lion Sleeps Tonight. Seeger’s causes—peace, racial justice, labor rights, the environment—were great and the album takes its title from his enduring anti-war song Where Have All the Flowers Gone? (video 1). A photo of soldiers wading in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta inspired Waist Deep in the Big Muddy (video 2), spotlighting arrogant leadership. He composed Turn, Turn, Turn during the Cold War, channeling Ecclesiastes but adding his own line, “A time for peace/I swear it’s not too late” (video 3). A singular piercing track—Zoe Mulford’s The President Sang Amazing Grace—was written after Seeger’s passing but Kronos founder David Harrington asserts it “could not exist but for Pete Seeger’s life work;” the song recalls an unspeakable American trauma and a mourner who rose to the moment (videos 4 and 5). Ecclesiastes notwithstanding, the world needs a healthy dose of Seeger in every season. On January 20, 2021, his native land entered a new spring of hope—and his voice resonates still. (Smithsonian Folkways)

Long Time Passing: Kronos Quartet & Friends Celebrate Pete Seeger
Kronos Quartet
David Harrington: Violin
John Sherba: Violin
Hank Dutt: Viola
Sunny Yang: Cello

Friends
Sam Amidon: Vocals, banjo

Maria Arnal: Vocals
Brian Carpenter: Vocals
Nikky Finney: Vocal prompts
Lee Knight: Vocals, banjo
Meklit: Vocals
Aoife O’Donovan: Vocals
San Francisco Unified School District third-grade students from Francis Scott Key and Monroe Elementary Schools: Vocals

Related post. Kronos Quartet, Mahsa & Marjan Vahdat: Placeless, Listening Post 212, July 30, 2019
https://worldlisteningpost.com/2019/07/30/kronos-quartet-mahsa-marjan-vahdat-placeless/

 

Where Have All the Flowers Gone?
Lyrics: Pete Seeger/Music: Pete Seeger, adapted from a traditional Irish tune
Vocals: Sam Amidon, Brian Carpenter, Lee Knight, Aoife O’Donovan

Blacklisted during the 1950’s, Seeger was essentially barred from performing on television or at large venues, but he continued singing where he could, at summer camps and college campuses. He wrote Where Have All the Flowers Gone? in about 20 minutes while on a plane, heading to a concert at Oberlin College in Ohio.

Where have all the flowers gone?/Long time passing
Where have all the flowers gone?/Long time ago
Where have all the flowers gone?/Girls have picked them every one
When will they ever learn?/When will they ever learn?

Where have all the young girls gone?/Long time passing
Where have all the young girls gone?/Long time ago
Where have all the young girls gone?/Taken husbands every one
When will they ever learn?/When will they ever learn?

Where have all the young men gone?/Long time passing
Where have all the young men gone?/Long time ago
Where have all the young men gone?/Gone for soldiers every one
When will they ever learn?/When will they ever learn?

Where have all the soldiers gone?/Long time passing
Where have all the soldiers gone?/Long time ago
Where have all the soldiers gone?/Gone to graveyards every one
When will they ever learn?/When will they ever learn?

Where have all the graveyards gone?/Long time passing
Where have all the graveyards gone?/Long time ago
Where have all the graveyards gone?/Covered with flowers every one
When will they ever learn?/When will they ever learn?

 

Waist Deep in the Big Muddy
Lyrics & Music: Pete Seeger
Vocals: Brian Carpenter

It was back in nineteen forty-two/I was a member of a good platoon
We were on maneuvers in Louisiana/One night by the light of the moon
The captain told us to ford a river/That’s how it all begun
We were — knee deep in the Big Muddy/But the big fool said to push on

The Sergeant said, “Sir, are you sure/This is the best way back to the base?”
“Sergeant, go on! I forded this river/‘Bout a mile above this place
It’ll be a little soggy but just keep slogging/We’ll soon be on dry ground”
We were, waist deep in the Big Muddy/And the big fool said to push on

The Sergeant said, “Sir, with all this equipment/No man will be able to swim”
“Sergeant, don’t be a Nervous Nellie”/The Captain said to him
“All we need is a little determination/Men, follow me, I’ll lead on”
We were, neck deep in the Big Muddy/And the big fool said to push on

All at once, the moon clouded over/We heard a gurgling cry
A few seconds later, the captain’s helmet/Was all that floated by
The Sergeant said, “Turn around men!/I’m in charge from now on”
And we just made it out of the Big Muddy/With the captain dead and gone

We stripped and dived and found his body/Stuck in the old quicksand
I guess he didn’t know that the water was deeper/Than the place he’d once before been
Another stream had joined the Big Muddy/‘Bout a half mile from where we’d gone
We were lucky to escape from the Big Muddy/When the big fool said to push on

Well, I’m not going to point any moral/I’ll leave that for yourself
Maybe you’re still walking, you’re still talking/You’d like to keep your health
But every time I read the papers/That old feeling comes on
We’re, waist deep in the Big Muddy/And the big fool says to push on

Waist deep in the Big Muddy/And the big fool says to push on
Waist deep in the Big Muddy/And the big fool says to push on
Waist deep! Neck deep! Soon even a/Tall man’ll be over his head, we’re
Waist deep in the Big Muddy!/And the big fool says to push on!

 

Turn, Turn, Turn
Lyrics: Pete Seeger, based on Ecclesiastes 3:1-8/Music: Pete Seeger
Vocals: Sam Amidon, Brian Carpenter, Lee Knight, Aoife O’Donovan 

To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven

A time to be born, a time to die/A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal/A time to laugh, a time to weep

To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven

A time to build up, a time to break down/A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones/A time to gather stones together

To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven

A time of love, a time of hate/A time of war, a time of peace
A time you may embrace, a time to refrain from embracing

To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven

A time to gain, a time to lose/A time to rend, a time to sew
A time for love, a time for hate/A time for peace, I swear it’s not too late

To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven

 

The President Sang Amazing Grace
Lyrics & music: Zoe Mulford
Vocals: Meklit 

On June 17, 2015, a white supremacist killed nine worshippers in the historic Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Nine days later President Barack Obama spoke—and sang—at a memorial service for the victims. In the video above Meklit recounts what the President did “on that day and in that place.” The video below shows the actual event.

A young man came to a house of prayer/They did not ask what brought him there
He was not friend, he was not kin/But they opened the door and they let him in

And for an hour the stranger stayed/He sat with them and he seemed to pray
But then the young man drew a gun/And killed nine people, old and young

In Charleston, in the month of June/The mourners gathered in a room
The President came to speak some words/And the cameras rolled and the nation heard

But no words could say what must be said/For all the living and the dead
So on that day and in that place/The President sang Amazing Grace
The President sang Amazing Grace

We argued where to lay the blame/On one man’s hate or our nation’s shame
Some sickness of the mind or soul/And how the wounds might be made whole

But no words could say what must be said/For all the living and the dead
So on that day and in that place/The President sang Amazing Grace
My President sang Amazing Grace

 

President Obama sings Amazing Grace, June 26, 2015

 


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