Famous folksinger used to visit Onchiota
To the editor:
I don’t remember when my father and Pete Seeger first connected. The first time I recall seeing him was sometime in the late 1940s or early 1950s. We were up from Hogansburg, visiting my grandparents in Onchiota, and a station wagon pulled in. It was Pete Seeger and his family. He was a tall, lanky fellow and was wearing a baseball cap, as I recall. I remember his wife and their kids but can’t remember names.
My next recollection was around 1953 near Lake George. At the time, we were working at the Lake George Indian Village. Pete Seeger connected with my father and asked if we would participate in a folklore music and dance event at Bolton Landing. So some of us loaded up in the Chevy panel truck and went. I recall Pete singing and playing his banjo, plus many others were performing at the event as well. There were square dances at some point; then we performed with Mohawk singing and dancing on the wooden platform.
Over the years, Pete would stop in here; plus he and my father would exchange letters on occasion, and sometimes a phone call.
I remember another time when he pulled in at my parents’ home driving a Volkswagen Bug. I think he was scheduled to perform at an event at Paul Smith’s College. He, Dad and I ended up in Dad’s den, visiting. I recall that Pete was sitting in a chair with his legs extended and crossed at the ankles. He was wearing jeans and work boots, plus a plaid shirt. I was impressed with how long his legs were.
There was a phone call one time from Pete during which he introduced another musician. His name was Peter LaFarge, and later LaFarge came to visit us here in Onchiota. LaFarge was of Native descent, and his father was the author Oliver LaFarge. The younger LaFarge wrote songs, including some that Johnny Cash eventually recorded in his album about Native Americans, “Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indians.”
During one of Seeger’s visits, my father taught him a Seneca song that he eventually recorded in an album.
Sometime during the 1970s or ’80s there was a musical fundraiser for the newspaper Akwesasne Notes which was held in Albany. Among the many musicians contributing their art was Pete Seeger. I was asked to produce a drawing for a poster for the event. My drawing featured Pete Seeger and also the Dakota singer, Floyd Westerman. The local singer-musician Roy Hurd had a great deal to do with the organization of that concert, and he, too, performed at the event. Joanne Shenandoah, Oneida, also performed, among others. I had a wonderful seat roughly third row from the front and just about center an unforgettable event. That was the last time I saw Pete Seeger.