Pete Seeger, who died yesterday at the age of 94, may have been a far greater believer in organizing people than he was in organized religion. “I feel most spiritual when I’m out in the woods,” he said when he was the subject of a PBS American Masters documentary. But growing up in the Jewish enclave of West Rogers Park in Chicago, I always viewed him as a patron saint (or rabbi, if you will). And for many of us who grew up in secular households — religiously checking his albums out of the Nortown Public Library, listening to him on the “Midnight Special” on WFMT, sitting in circles to sing his songs in kindergarten, then later teaching our kindergarten children to sing those — we often felt most spiritual when we were listening to Pete Seeger. In honor of his memory, we offer 7 classic Jewish Pete Seeger songs.
Pete Seeger recorded the Pesach classic on his 1959 “Folk Songs For Young People” album.
Hinei Ma Tov
Pete Seeger performed this hymn to brotherhood and harmony with Theodore Bikel and Rashid Hussain.
Legend had it that Seeger was the one responsible for pulling the plug on Bob Dylan at Newport. But this recording of the song Dylan wrote for one of his sons suggests that, at some point, all was forgiven.
Tzena, Tzena, Tzena
During Seeger’s Greenwich Village Llewyn Davis days, he recorded this song with his quartet The Weavers.
Seeger recorded this song with Ruth Rubin for the album “Jewish Songs and Games”
If Not Now, When?
Seeger mused on the words of Rabbi Hillel when he recorded this for the Isabella Freedman Retreat Center.
Turn, Turn Turn
The words came from Ecclesiastes; the melody was provided by Pete Seeger.
Adam Langer is the Forward’s culture editor. Born and raised in Chicago, he now lives in New York. He has written plays, films, criticism and a memoir, but most of the time, he writes novels.
He is the author of the novels “Crossing California,” “The Washington Story,” “Ellington Boulevard,” “The Thieves of Manhattan” and “The Salinger Contract” as well as the memoir “My Father’s Bonus March.”