One of America’s folk singer laureates passed away recently. He was Pete Seeger and along with Woody Guthrie they should share that designation.
Seeger wrote and sang several signature folks songs from the 1960s. “If I Had a Hammer” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” were anthems sung by anyone who could strum a guitar.
I was one among those legions of folk singers in the ’60s and ’70s. In those days it seemed everyone played guitar and sang folk songs. The cultural period was touched upon in the 2013 movie “Inside Llewyn Davis.” That movie and the accompanying cable TV shows about the making of the music for the movie inspired me to pick up my guitar.
In fact, it has also inspired me to work with Gardena’s Japanese Cultural Institute’s (JCI) Second Sunday program. Second Sunday is an afternoon showcase where anyone can perform a few songs, share their poetry or written word, and other forms of cultural performance.
So, on March 9, Sunday afternoon at JCI, we’ll be having an old time “hootenanny.” Remember the hootenannies back in the day? Everyone would bring their guitar and share a song or two but also everyone sang along. I guess it was our version of today’s karaoke.
Those songs we sang evolved from traditional folk music to then modern-day political protest songs. Seeger’s “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” was an anti-war tune. “If I Had a Hammer” was a call for equality and justice for all throughout the land, and his co-written iconic song “We Shall Overcome” was the theme song for the Civil Rights Movement.
Seeger’s and Guthrie’s music set the tone for the many folk singers that followed. Bob Dylan took their music even farther down the political path with his many songs about justice, equality and anti-establishment and anti-war. Peter, Paul and Mary, Joan Baez and other well-known singer/song writers were inspired by the folk music movement. But just as importantly, the movement inspired the many non-famous singer/songwriters who wrote their own songs from their points of view and from their hearts and souls. That’s why it was called “folk” music — because it was from and for regular folks.
So, anyone who’d like to share a song or two on the ninth at JCI need only email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. The only requirement is that you’ll be limited to two songs, it will be acoustic, songs from the folk-singing golden era are preferred, and you have to get folks to sing along.
So I’m not just “Blowing in the Wind” or doing this for just a “hoot.” Dust off the old guitar (tune it, please); bring your tambourine or other rhythm instruments and come on down to the JCI Hootenany on March 9, 4 p.m. in Gardena.
PS: An important postscript about Seeger is that his wife Toshi, maiden name Ohta, was Japanese American (Hapa). She was not only his life’s partner but also an active participant in organizing folk festivals, an avid environmentalist and an absolute believer in the “Power of Song,” the title of the documentary she did about Seeger and his music when she was 85. She passed away six months prior to Seeger.
Warren Furutani has served as a member of the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education, the Los Angeles Community College District Board of Trustees, and the California State Assembly. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.