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By Jonny Grave

Yesterdar morning, I woke to the sad news of Pete Seeger’s passing. After 94 years of songs and stories, of protesting and preaching, of marches and fighting the good fight, Seeger finally breathed his last on the night of January 27 at New York Presbyterian Hospital.

Scores of hastily-written articles poured out into the Internet, filling up the aether with stories of this great man’s life and his work. A son of artists and ethnomusicologists, a student of American folklore, activist, soldier, pacifist, instigator, dropout, genius… These are the words that are used to tell Seeger’s story. But, despite his death, his story is far from over.

Folk music is a self-describing phenomenon; it is music of the folk, or rather, of the people. It is music passed down from family to family. It is an open dialogue of the human condition. It is a reminder that we are all in this together. There was no greater man to remind us of this facet of humanity than Pete Seeger.

He was set apart from other performers by putting himself on equal playing field with his audience. With every song, he urged the crowd to sing aloud. With every concert, every union meeting, every protest, or every gathering, Seeger would not only encourage the crowd to sing, or to clap, but he would stir within them a desire to be a part of something bigger.

Folk music can do that.

For Seeger, folk music was never exclusively about entertainment, or about art. He used it as a tool to promote the dreams in which he fiercely believed. His dreams eventually came into question in 1955, when he was called to testify before the House of Un-American Activities Committee. When he refused to answer Tavenner’s persistent line of questioning, Seeger was indicted and convicted of contempt of Congress. At his sentencing, he brought his banjo, and asked to play a song for the judge.

There is a stark contrast between the attitude this great man maintained toward music, and the attitude of musicians today. There are now more self-described folk musicians than there ever have been. But what are we singing about?

Times have changed, and the protests are dwindling. The reasons to protest certainly haven’t diminished: drone strikes on civilians in Yemen, government spying on American citizens, widespread corruption, income disparity that continues to grow at an alarming rate… But where are our protest songs? Where is the point at which we can all rise up and sing together?

The causes and ideals for which Seeger fought are held in high esteem today, but are rarely seen as anything more than dreams. It seems we have forgotten why we learned to sing in the first place.

I urge my fellow musicians, artists, students of folklore, storytellers, writers, and brilliant, brilliant minds to rise to the occasion. One great man is now gone—his work is far from over. But let us fill the space he left behind by standing up for what we believe. Sing about it. Write about it. Find a way to make a move against injustice. And, as Seeger sang, “we shall overcome.”