February 3, 2014
Postcards from Old Pete
by Claire Kelley
Pete Seeger was not only a legendary folk singer and passionate activist, he was also a prolific postcard writer. If someone sent him their thoughts about the world, a note of thanks, or a letter asking for advice, he often wrote back. His notes reflected his personality—frank and honest, but always encouraging. In his later years, he signed the notes “Old Pete” and drew his trademark banjo. Read the postcards that were sent to five lucky recipients below—including one that’s dated January 13, 2014, just fourteen days before Old Pete passed on.
Jessica Max Stein shared this postcard on her website: “Here’s a terrific postcard Seeger sent me in 2006, in response to my zine The Long Walk Back to Myself, about my 3-day, 50-mile walk from my home in Brooklyn to the Clearwater music festival in Croton, NY.”
Bryan Farrell, an activist and writer received this postcard and tells the story behind it: “So, at the time I wrote him, a few friends were thinking of starting a peace education program that we could bring to K-12 schools. (It never came together, incidentally, and we ended up starting a website called Waging Nonviolence instead a couple years later.) This was also around the time The Power of Song documentary came out. And more than anything, it showed Pete to be an amazing teacher. So, I thought I’d write and ask for his advice on how to get kids interested in peace and justice. And that’s what he wrote. It is certainly sage advice — not only for the journalist in me, but also the college teacher in me.”
When The Villager published an article about Seeger’s musical appearance at the New York City Community Garden Coalition’s candidates forum at Cooper Union, he sent a postcard to the author of the article, Sarah Ferguson, congratulating her and offering one correction.
Ryan Mifflin received this postcard after writing to Pete Seeger about the non-profit he started and his self-described “ever-so-humble goal of completely changing the world.”
Ronald Cohen, Professor Emeritus of History at Indiana University Northwest and author of books about folk music received this postcard from Pete dated January 13, 2014 — just 11 days before his death. Pete describes spending the day memorizing Shakespeare’s Sonnet 65 (read more on the Oxford University Press blog).
Claire Kelley is the Director of Library and Academic Marketing at Melville House.