Pete Seeger: Songs from the past still relevant for our time

Tony Donaldson

Let me present three different types of songs performed by Pete Seeger in 1960 – a lullaby, protest song, and an entertainment song.

Seeger said learning another language is like entering the soul of another people. He included in his repertoire songs from all over the world, including this gentle Indonesian lullaby called Suliram, which was traditionally sung to children in Indonesia and Malaysia at bedtime. Here is the first verse with an English translation.

Suliram, Suliram, ram, ram
Suliram yang manis
Aduhai indung seorang
Bijaklah sana dipandang manis

Suliram, Suliram, ram, ram
Suliram, who is so sweet
Oh, whose child is this
So right to look so sweet

The second song, What a Friend We Have in Congress, is as relevant today as it was 62 years ago when Peter Seeger sang it here. The melody is appropriated from a Christian song, which Seeger skilfully uses to raise our consciousness about America’s strange fanaticism for spending most of its taxpayer’s money on war rather than improving the lives of their own people. Here are the lyrics.

What a friend we have in Congress who will guard our every shore

Spends three quarters of our taxes getting ready for a war


Guns must make our coastline bristle, and we have to fill the sky

full of planes and guided missiles, they’ll be paid for by and by.


Have you noticed all the progress in our mighty airborne fleet?

By the time a plane’s adopted its already obsolete.


There’s no factory profit brother and we have to do or die

One improvement then another, they’ll be paid for by and by


Modern bombs are sure to carry loads or glory joy and thrill

What a privilege to bury all the dead our money kills


Never mind the widows weeping. Disregard the orphan’s cry.

When God wakes the dead and sleeping, they’ll be paid for by and by

The third song is a cheerful sing-along titled Deep Blue Sea. During the performance, Seeger jokingly says, “Don’t ask me what it all means!”


image.png Seeger appearing before the House Un-American Activities Committee held on 18 August 1955.
image.pngSeeger (far right) performing with great American singers including Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, and Peter, Paul & Mary (far left partly obscured)

Seeger backstage with fellow artists before a concert

image.pngWounded US soldier being evacuated by helicopter during fighting in Vietnam in the 1960s.





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