Folk Musician Pete Seeger, As Remembered By His Goddaughter

Folk musician Pete Seeger died Monday at the age of 94. Seeger was celebrated not only for his music with the Weavers and as a solo artist, but also for his relentless social activism. Audie Cornish speaks with his goddaughter, guitarist and songwriter Toshi Reagon.

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The death of folk singer Pete Seeger yesterday at the age of 94 has fans, friends, and family reconnecting to his memory.


PETE SEEGER: (Singing) To everything, turn, turn, turn. There is a season, turn, turn, turn. And the time to every purpose under heaven...

CORNISH: Among those remembering Seeger, his goddaughter, singer and activist Toshi Reagon.

TOSHI REAGON: "Turn, Turn, Turn," I just thank him so much for that song.


SEEGER: (Singing) A time to be born, a time to die...

REAGON: "Turn, Turn, Turn" is so special. It's such a great gift to all of us.

CORNISH: Toshi Reagon is named after Pete Seeger's late wife, Toshi Seeger. She told us today of her family's relationship with Seeger. In 1962, Toshi Reagon's parents were part of the civil rights group, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Seeger thought they should use music to help the cause. And the group they created, The Freedom Singers, went on to spread a musical message of racial desegregation.

REAGON: This music traveled across the country and it helped broaden the message. It also was able to fundraise for the movement which was really important. My mother was the connection with Toshi Seeger. And my mother passed down that legacy of organization from Toshi to me.

The idea of Pete showing up and being a part of so many different movements is an incredible line. I've always admired him for that. He did it his entire life.

CORNISH: Now there's a generation of people who grew up with Pete Seeger's music and books for children. And I wonder what it's like for you, somebody who probably got to experience him - as you were a child, with him being a godfather - what kind of godfather was he?

REAGON: Well, he's cool. I loved his music. I love his songs, as a kid. And then, when one of my favorite bands - Earth, Wind and Fire - recorded "Where Have All The Flowers Gone," I was so shocked to find out Pete wrote that song. And so many of the songs we had to sing in school. You know, they're part of the American Songbook.

CORNISH: What kind of lessons did he give you in terms of sharing music with the crowd? I mean, his performances were so evocative and kind of about call and response, what did he teach you about music?

REAGON: You know, Pete was a musician - a traveling musician. He showed up everywhere and he always had a song. And if he didn't have a song, he'd write one for whatever the particular need was. And my mom, me, Pete, we're congregational singers. Even when we're singing by ourselves, we want to be singing in a congregation. So a lot of our music, we end up teaching audiences to sing so we're not singing by ourselves, which we can't really stand.


REAGON: So, you know, you will Google Pete today. I'm sure a lot of your listeners will Google him. You will not find many pictures of him without a banjo or a 12-string guitar in his hand. That's just the kind of dude he was. And I think leading by example just very, very strong and showing up in the simplest and purest way.

CORNISH: As you came to know your godfather as an adult, are there aspects of Pete Seeger's legacy that you want people to remember; things may be that people take for granted?

REAGON: You know, Pete lived so simply and was so generous, I would say his legacy would be his incredible love for Toshi. And the other would be to let things pass through you, that to take them in and give them away. Pete won a Lillian Gish Prize. I sang at that award ceremony. The check never touched his hands. I can't remember how much it was for, like $195,000...


REAGON: ...or something like that. He didn't take one penny. So that is his legacy. I think that is his lesson. We have to be connected and really feel like we can make a contribution past our own existence.

CORNISH: Musician Toshi Reagon, thank you so much for speaking with us.

REAGON: Thank you so much.

CORNISH: Toshi Reagon, she was talking with us about her godfather, Pete Seeger, who died yesterday at the age of 94.


SEEGER: (Singing) Well may the world go, the world go, the world go, well may the world go when I'm far away. Well may the skiers turn, the lovers burn, the swimmers learn. Peace, may the generals learn when I'm far away. Well may the world go, the world go, the world go, well may the world go when I'm far away.


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