Mainers who knew Pete Seeger remembered the folk singer Tuesday as a loyal friend, a committed activist and an endlessly hopeful and passionate human being who loved life, music and community.

Seeger, who died late Monday at the age of 94, had strong ties to Maine. His sloop Clearwater was built and launched here, and Seeger helped write the music for an old-time folk song that celebrates Maine’s working heritage, “Come All Ye Lewiston Factory Girls.” The lyrics for the song were written at the turn of the 20th century, but no one knew how it went. So Seeger wrote the melody.

A few years ago, he was the reluctant subject of a portrait by Robert Shetterly, an artist from Brooksville who had to convince Seeger that he was a worthy subject for his “Americans Who Tell the Truth” portrait series.

And when the writer and musician Phillip Hoose of Portland needed a promotional blurb for one of his books, Seeger eagerly provided one – and then convinced his friend Studs Terkel to read Hoose’s book and offer his own words of praise.

One of Seeger’s most-loved songs, “Garden Song (Inch by Inch),” was written by Dave Mallett of Sebec.

Noel Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul and Mary fame wrote a song about Seeger, “Not That Kind of Music,” as a tribute to his friend, whom he called a pillar of folk music.


Stookey, who lives in Blue Hill, said in a written statement, “Pete lived simply with modesty and suffered most compliments warily. I never had a conversation with him that did not include some expression of hope, some praise for a stand well taken – whether political or environmental – and always undergirded by his longstanding belief in the equity of humankind. Pete was all about community, and singing together was the ‘golden thread’ with which he wove our human tapestry.”

Hoose was in Indiana on Tuesday when he learned of Seeger’s death. He said, “I don’t think there was a more important American in my lifetime. I was privileged to know him. … He was really a digger. He led by example.”


Hoose met Seeger in Philadelphia in 1986 at a conference of topical songwriters. Hoose was a participant, and Seeger was the emcee.

“I knew he was in the room, but I had no intention of introducing myself,” said Hoose, who didn’t want to impose on Seeger’s time.

Instead, Seeger approached Hoose.


“Someone asked if I wanted coffee, and I looked up and it was Pete,” said Hoose.

The two became friends. When Hoose founded the Children’s Music Network, Seeger got involved. He attended regular meetings, contributed ideas and information and helped raise money. Children’s music was one among many of Seeger’s passionate interests.

Seeger said yes when Hoose asked him to write a blurb for his 2001 book, “We Were There Too! Young People in U.S. History.” And he took it further, urging Hoose to send an advance copy to Terkel.

“Two weeks later, I had a beautiful quote from Studs Terkel,” Hoose said.

Seeger even helped Hoose reach out to Bruce Springsteen, another of Seeger’s friends, though that connection didn’t pan out.

“He had the biggest Rolodex and the biggest network of people there surely ever was. He was the most helpful and encouraging person I have ever met,” Hoose said.


When Seeger liked a book, he bought multiple copies to give as gifts. He gave Hoose a steel drum that he made, in honor of their friendship and in recognition of their shared interest in steel drum music. Hoose has since given the drum to the Waynflete School in Portland.

Seeger’s environmentalism brought him to Maine in the 1960s. He founded an organization known as the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, dedicated to cleaning the Hudson River. As a symbol, Seeger and the organization commissioned the sailing vessel Clearwater, a 100-foot sloop that was built in a boatyard in South Bristol and launched in 1969.


Shetterly met Seeger six or seven years ago, after the painter convinced the singer to be part of his “Americans Who Tell the Truth” series.

In that series, Shetterly portrays courageous Americans who stand up for social justice, economic fairness and environmental causes. The series includes such notables as Martin Luther King Jr., Dwight Eisenhower and Harriet Tubman.

Seeger did not communicate electronically, so Shetterly sent him a letter. At first, Seeger declined.


“He suggested this wasn’t necessary to do. That’s what people mean when they say he is humble. But I persisted,” Shetterly said.

Seeger said yes to Shetterly’s second request.

As he was known to do, Seeger wrote out a note on a postcard and drew a picture of an old man playing the banjo. He signed it “Ol’ Pete,” and invited Shetterly and his wife to his home in Beacon, N.Y.

Seeger and his wife, Toshi, hosted the couple, showing them around their simple cabin, which they built together, and singing songs. The two couples spent the day together.

When it was time to pose for a photo for the portrait, Seeger asked to sit with Toshi. Shetterly preferred that Seeger pose alone. Seeger agreed, and insisted on wearing a red wool cap that Toshi had knit for him.

“He said his life would have been impossible without her,” Shetterly said. “He put that cap on to be a symbol of her presence with him in the portrait.”


Toshi died last year.

Shetterly wanted to make a portrait of Seeger out of respect and admiration.

“He was so much a piece of the conscience of this country. When we lose someone like Pete, who has given his whole life to things he believes in, it’s a major wound,” Shetterly said.

“There are people who understand issues of justice and poverty and racism and environmental degradation,” he said, “but there are few people who understand, who have the moral clarity and ability to communicate, as he did. When you communicate with song, you bring in so many more people. It affects people differently than words do or a painting does. It goes right to your blood and right to your head. It affects your whole person.

“Pete was able to do that.”

Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:bkeyes@pressherald.combkeyes@pressherald.comTwitter: pphbkeyespphbkeyes

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