A Small Part of America’s Soul*

2009 Armed Forces Inaugural CommitteeWe shall overcome,
We shall overcome,
We shall overcome some day.

Oh, deep in my heart
I do believe,
We shall overcome some day.

Pete Seeger, the musician who helped make We Shall Overcome (to fight against something and win) the anthem (a song identified with a particular group or movement) of the American Civil Rights Movement, and of other civil rights movements around the world, died last week at the age of 94.

Seeger was a folk musician who played an important part in the American folk music revival (when something becomes active or popular again) of the 1950s and 60s. Folk music is music of the people, music that tells their stories. It’s music that people participate in, not just listen to.

Seeger sang and played the banjo, a musical instrument with 4-6 strings stretched across a round body and a long neck similar to the neck of a guitar (see the photo on the right). Banjos became popular in the mid-19th century (1800s) and became an important part of American music, like ragtime, early jazz, country, and bluegrass.

In Seeger’s hands, the banjo became a “machine [that] surrounds (to be all around something, on every side) hate and forces it to surrender (to stop fighting)” – words he wrote on the body of his banjo.

Seeger dedicated (gave, committed) his long life to working and singing to influence (affect the way something develops) social issues. In the 1940s he supported the organization of labor unions and America’s involvement in World War II.

In the 1950s he opposed (disagreed with and worked against) McCarthyism, a campaign (actions intended to achieve a particular result) led by Senator Joseph McCarthy against people in government and other parts of American life who might be communists. Many people were blacklisted (put on a list of disapproved people) and lost their jobs even though they weren’t communists.

In the 1960s he brought his voice and his music, including We Shall Overcome, to the Civil Rights Movement. And in the late 1960s he joined the protests against the Vietnam War.

Some of Seeger’s songs became very popular. Where Have All the Flowers Gone?, sung by the Kingston Trio, reached the Top 40 (the 40 most popular songs in the country) in 1962. A short time later Peter, Paul and Mary’s version (way of doing it) of If I Had a Hammer made it to the Top 10.

If you want to hear Seeger perform some of his own music, Rolling Stone has compiled (put together) 20 of his most important songs. On each page there is a brief story about the song. As you listen, notice how, in good folk music style, the audiences often sing along with him.

If you only have time to listen to a few, try these: If I Had a Hammer, We Shall Overcome, Where Have All the Flowers Gone?, and This Land is Your Land.

Someone once asked Seeger who he was intending (to have in your mind as a plan) to overcome. He replied, “For me, it means the entire world. We’ll overcome our tendencies (the way we often do something) to solve our problems with killing and learn to work together to bring the world together.”

*The idea for this title comes from an article by Andrew Cohen. The soul is the part of a person that contains their character (who they really are inside), thoughts, and feelings.

~ Warren Ediger, ESL tutor/coach and creator of the Successful English web site.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

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10 Responses to A Small Part of America’s Soul*

  1. emiliano says:

    Very sorry indeed when I have knew about his dead in the Spanish news, because we all my
    generation was in debt with this singular musician, his song “We Shall Overcome” was the
    song my young fellows at the school and the students in the university sung when they took a
    sit on the floor to make a protest agains the dictators and the police that support the old
    Franco´s regimen.
    First I think the song was of Dylan or Joan Baez, but not, the song is from this great
    musician that had a very active life, as you so well said above.

    Thank you so much dear Warren by your information, it is always lucid and opportune.
    My best, emiliano

  2. lilian says:

    It’s great dear Warren that you gave us this opportunity to know this magnanimous man.it might be a little late but better late than never.
    hi Emiliano how are you doing?I missed you .take care

  3. Dan says:

    Hello everyone,

    I did not know this man before the news of his death buth I heard a few of his songs.

    Hey Warren, have you knowledge of someone younger that it is going to take Mr.Seeger place and sing for the voiceless?

    Well, what can I say more? his death is a reminder that life is short, even though one reaches into the 90s.

    we could easily change the words of his song and sing:

    WE shall all go-oo
    We shall all go-oo

    We shall all go-oo some day.

    Sorry! I just got home and I am dead tired and I am not even sure about my sanity.

    Bye, thanks

  4. emiliano says:

    Dear Warren, two of the songs I like more and I will love for ever are from
    1977, one of them is “Hotel California” of Eagles and the other
    is “Dust in the Wind” of Kansas. Both of the songs are famous and
    listening to them I could remember my youth, the time when my little
    daughter Laura was born. Another time, another life, moments have
    passed but reminds inside my mind and sould.
    Music are sticked to the soul of people and have some kind of magic
    that can not been explained for anybody, that is what I think about
    the feelings all kind of good music awake in our mind, souls, and life.

    These are two of my songs.

    Hotel California

    On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair
    Warm smell of colitas, rising up through the air
    Up ahead in the distance, I saw a shimmering light
    My head grew heavy and my sight grew dim
    I had to stop for the night
    There she stood in the doorway;
    I heard the mission bell
    And I was thinking to myself,
    “This could be Heaven or this could be Hell”
    Then she lit up a candle and she showed me the way
    There were voices down the corridor,
    I thought I heard them say…

    Welcome to the Hotel California
    Such a lovely place (Such a lovely place)
    Such a lovely face
    Plenty of room at the Hotel California
    Any time of year (Any time of year)
    You can find it here

    Her mind is Tiffany-twisted, she got the Mercedes bends
    She got a lot of pretty, pretty boys she calls friends
    How they dance in the courtyard, sweet summer sweat.
    Some dance to remember, some dance to forget

    So I called up the Captain,
    “Please bring me my wine”
    He said, “We haven’t had that spirit here since nineteen sixty nine”
    And still those voices are calling from far away,
    Wake you up in the middle of the night
    Just to hear them say…

    Welcome to the Hotel California
    Such a lovely place (Such a lovely place)
    Such a lovely face
    They livin’ it up at the Hotel California
    What a nice surprise (what a nice surprise)
    Bring your alibis

    Mirrors on the ceiling,
    The pink champagne on ice
    And she said “We are all just prisoners here, of our own device”
    And in the master’s chambers,
    They gathered for the feast
    They stab it with their steely knives,
    But they just can’t kill the beast

    Last thing I remember, I was
    Running for the door
    I had to find the passage back
    To the place I was before
    “Relax, ” said the night man,
    “We are programmed to receive.
    You can check-out any time you like,
    But you can never leave! ”

    Writer(s): Glenn Lewis Frey, Don Felder, Don Henley


    Dust in the Wind

    I close my eyes
    Only for a moment and the moment’s gone
    All my dreams
    Pass before my eyes with curiosity

    Dust in the wind
    All we are is dust in the wind

    Same old song
    Just a drop of water in an endless sea
    All we do
    Crumbles to the ground, though we refuse to see

    (Aa aa aa)
    Dust in the wind
    All we are is dust in the wind
    Oh, ho, ho

    Now don’t hang on
    Nothin’ lasts forever but the earth and sky
    It slips away
    And all your money won’t another minute buy

    Dust in the wind
    All we are is dust in the wind
    (All we are is dust in the wind)

    Dust in the wind
    (Everything is dust in the wind)
    Everything is dust in the wind
    (In the wind)


    Livgren, Kerry A

  5. Genji says:

    Thank you Warren, I still love “We shall overcome”, but thought it would have been written and sung by Joan Baez.
    I pray for Pete Seeger’s soul and world’s peace.
    Aged 68, Genji from Yokohama.

  6. emiliano says:

    My ever songs are more than a hundred, but there are always some special one that never I could be tired of listening, once and again.
    Some of them are these.
    Simon And Garfunkel – The Boxer Lyrics

    I am just a poor boy
    Though my story’s seldom told
    I have squandered my resistance
    For a pocket full of mumbles such are promises
    All lies and jests
    Still a man hears what he wants to hear
    And disregards the rest
    When I left my home and my family
    I was no more than a boy
    In the company of strangers
    In the quiet of the railway station running scared
    Laying low, seeking out the poorer quarters
    Where the ragged people go
    Looking for the places only they would know

    Lie la lie …

    Asking only workman’s wages
    I come looking for a job
    But I get no offers,
    Just a come-on from the whores on Seventh Avenue
    I do declare, there were times when I was so lonesome
    I took some comfort there
    Lie la lie …

    Then I’m laying out my winter clothes
    And wishing I was gone
    Going home
    Where the New York City winters aren’t bleeding me
    Bleeding me, going home
    In the clearing stands a boxer
    And a fighter by his trade
    And he carries the reminders
    Of ev’ry glove that layed him down
    Or cut him till he cried out
    In his anger and his shame
    “I am leaving, I am leaving”
    But the fighter still remains

    Lie la lie …

    This lyric could be just for these moments too, there is not work
    and lot of young have to left home looking for a job…..

    Cat Stevens
    “Morning Has Broken”

    Morning has broken, like the first morning
    Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird
    Praise for the singing, praise for the morning
    Praise for the springing fresh from the world

    Sweet the rain’s new fall, sunlit from heaven
    Like the first dewfall, on the first grass
    Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden
    Sprung in completeness where his feet pass

    Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning
    Born of the one light, eden saw play
    Praise with elation, praise every morning
    God’s recreation of the new day


    Thank you Warren, these two songs are also from my hundred
    ones or more that I like so much


  7. Betty says:

    Dear Warren

    Thank you for this valuable article. I didn’t know about this famous musician called Pete Seeger, although I had listened to so many of his songs before.

    I owe him for helping me appreciate music and English songs.

    Dan is right about singing “we shall all go-oo some day”.

    But, hey, before we go, let’s enjoy more music.

    I would like to thank Emiliano for pointing out so many great songs. I watched the youtube and I found my favourite songs again. It’s amazing how human’s brain works when it comes to music.

    I didn’t know the lyrics previously. I just loved the rhythms and I could hear just a very small part of the songs. Now with the help of internet and youtube, I can understand the songs better.

    Thank God for allowing me to live into this technological age.

    Many thanks again everyone!

    Betty 🙂

  8. Betty says:

    I have read some news about Pete Seeger and watched the “This Land is Your Land”.

    Warren your article is a very good tribute to Pete Seeger. Many thanks again.

    Yes Lilian you are right. It is a little late but better late than never.

    We all should live like Pete Seeger.

    RIP Mr Seeger.


  9. Dan says:

    Thank you Betty

    Nice reading from you as always. You are always missed Betty. I know though, that you are busy.

    About what I wrote the other day, I do not know why, but I am almost convinced that that is a moronic comment of mine.

    And since nobody tells me that I am saying it by myself.


  10. Tania says:

    Hi! I like very much the title of your post: “A Small Part of America’s Soul”.
    With every new lesson we discover a small part of America’s soul.
    I like and the question”who he was intending to overcome” but and the Pete Seeger’s answer.
    I am sory to say that I know no song mentioned.
    I like the title of the song “Where Have All the Flowers Gone”, but reading the lyrics
    I think it is a very sad song.

    A great confusion to me. I thought it was about what Jeff told us in English Cafe 412 about
    “Old Time Rock and Roll” by Bob Seger. The same “This Land Is Your Land” performed by Bruce Springsteen.

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